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College Football

Illinois alters helmets, adds decals for season to promote social justice

The Illinois Fighting Illini football team will wear helmets all season that feature social justice messages and a black fist decal, the program announced Thursday.

When Illinois takes the field Friday for its Big Ten season opener against the Wisconsin Badgers, the team’s helmets will look fundamentally different.

Instead of an orange and blue Block I traditionally featured on Illini helmets, the letter will instead be black.

The Illini shared an image of the updated helmet Thursday on social media.

Further, the aforementioned black fist decal on the helmets will be complimented with one of five messages bearing a social justice theme: “Black Lives Matter,” “I Fight Against Racism,” “Together,” “Equality,” or “United,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Issues related to social injustice, systemic racism and police misconduct have of course been pushed to the forefront in sports since George Floyd’s death on May 25 while in Minneapolis police custody became the first of several officer-involved, high-profile deaths of Black Americans.

“We wanted to show that we are aware of what’s happening in our country right now,” senior cornerback Nate Hobbs said in a statement. “We’re willing to take a stand, not as one, but as a unit.”

The Illinois football program, led by Lovie Smith, and the university’s athletic department, headed by Josh Whitman, have been supportive of player activism. The two also approved the helmet updates and alterations, which were chosen by the players.

“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,” Smith said. “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.”