The University of Illinois’ football team has changed their helmets to include messages of social justice and a black fist, the school announced on Thursday. The change comes as many college and professional teams have used their platforms to make statements about social justice and racial equality.
The Fighting Illini will debut the new gear during the season opener against Wisconsin on Friday. During the season opener, the team will trade their traditional orange helmet with a blue “I” for a helmet with a black “I.” For all games, the players will wear helmets with a small rear decal of a black fist and their choice of phrase: “Black Lives Matter,” “I Fight Against Racism,” “Together,” “Equality” or “United.”
The uniform changes came after the team’s leadership council compiled a list of different ways to express support for social change, the school said. Over the summer, the team said it organized a peaceful march for student-athletes.
“We wanted to show that we are aware of what’s happening in our country right now,” senior cornerback Nate Hobbs said in the school’s statement. “We’re willing to take a stand, not as one, but as a unit.”
“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.
The school said the initiatives aren’t meant to support a particular organization, but rather a belief in “equality for all individuals.” All uniform decisions were student-athlete driven and approved by head coach Lovie Smith and athletic director Josh Whitman, the school said.