NCAA Will Allow Student-Athletes to Wear Social Justice Uniform Patches

  • Options could include replacing last names with phrases relating to social justice causes.
  • The NBA and WNBA have allowed players to wear alternative phrases to their own last names on jerseys during their respective bubble seasons.
NCAA Will Allow Student-Athletes to Wear Social Justice Messages on Uniforms
Photo Credit: Charlie Nye, Indianapolis Star
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Following in the footsteps of some professional sports leagues, the NCAA will allow student-athletes in all sports to wear patches featuring social justice statements on uniforms, it announced Thursday.

Existing rules in some sports do not allow patches, while others don’t address them. NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel members decided last week that student-athletes can put patches in two places on the uniform: one on the front and one on the back.

The front patch may be a “commemorative/memorial patch (names, mascots, nicknames, logos and marks) intended to celebrate or memorialize people, events or other causes,” the NCAA said. The patch can’t exceed 2 1/4 square inches and must be placed on the front or sleeve of the uniform. Not all team members are required to wear the front patch, but the patch must be identical for those who do. 

The second patch can be on the back of the uniform where a player’s name is usually located and will allow names/words intended to celebrate or memorialize people, events or other causes. The back patch can vary by team member.

While the new rule expands the possibilities for athlete expression from the NCAA perspective, individual conferences and institutions will have the final say over the messages. The move comes as the association is also preparing legislation to allow student-athletes to profit off their own names, images and likenesses beginning in the 2021-22 school year.

The NBA and WNBA are both allowing players to wear phrases and names other than their own on their jerseys during the leagues’ respective bubble seasons. 

NBA players were provided a list of league-approved social justice messages to choose from – including “Black Lives Matter” and “Equality” – which was met with mixed reviews. LeBron James, for example, is opting to wear his own name because the effort “doesn’t seriously resonate with [his] mission.”

During opening weekend games, some WNBA players wore jerseys with “Breonna Taylor” written on the back instead of their own last names. Additionally, throughout the season, players will wear warm-up shirts that display “Black Lives Matter” on the front with “Say Her Name” on the back. 

The NFL is considering listing the names of police brutality victims on uniforms through decals on helmets or patches on jerseys. Ahead of opening day games, MLB provided shirts that said “Black Lives Matter” across the front for players to wear during batting practice and gave players the option to wear a “Black Lives Matter” or “United for Change” patch on their jerseys. MLS players have also been wearing “Black Lives Matters” shirts before games, while NWSL players did the same during the league’s Challenge Cup tournament.

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