CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois football will wear a new, unique helmet in the season opener at No. 14 Wisconsin Friday night, aimed at promoting social justice awareness. Instead of an orange and blue Block I helmet decal, the players will don a black I for this game only. In addition, a small rear decal will be on the helmets with a black fist. Players will also have the option of choosing one of five different messages on the back side of their helmet: Black Lives Matter, I Fight Against Racism, Together, Equality or United. Those changes will be worn all season long.
“Having the Black I on our helmets for this first game is a symbol of unity and that this team stands for the Black Lives Matter movement,” said senior linebacker Milo Eifler in a statement.
The initiatives were player driven and approved by both Illinois head coach Lovie Smith and athletic director Josh Whitman. It followed a peaceful march through campus and Champaign this summer, led by Kendrick Green and Nate Hobbs. They organized the event on Aug. 31 that was attended by hundreds of Illini athletes and supporters. Illinois athletes have been very active both in the community and on social media this year, promoting social and racial equality for everyone.
“We wanted to show that we are aware of what’s happening in our country right now,” Hobbs said in a statement. “We’re willing to take a stand, not as one, but as a unit.”
“What’s understood doesn’t need to be explained, but there are still problems out in this world with racism and unity,” senior defensive lineman Jamal Woods said in a statement. “We are trying to bring awareness to our communities to get people to do the right things.”
“To see our players come together in support of their teammates has been extremely rewarding and speaks to the culture we are trying to create in our locker room,” said Smith in a statement. “Our team’s leaders did exactly what we expect them to do, which was to bring their teammates together around a common voice and message.”
“Our primary mission in Illinois Athletics is to educate the men and women who choose to join our program,” said Whitman in a statement. “Much of this education occurs outside the four walls of the classroom as our student-athletes learn to interact with, and influence, the world around them. I am proud that they continue to wrestle with the hard issues facing our society and to use their platform for positive change. We remain steadfast in supporting their efforts, on the field and off, and I hope others will do the same.”