Hours before kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday, West Side leaders and members of the Black press called on the NFL and the Chicago Bears to give more opportunities to Black-owned businesses and work to improve longstanding inequities.

“The Super Bowl we know is much like a holiday in America,” state Rep. La Shawn Ford said. “Like every holiday, we can use it as a symbol to recall things of the past and try to move forward for a better future.”

Pastor Anthony Williams recalled N’DIGO’s Hermene Hartman and the Chicago Crusader’s Dorothy Leavell meeting in 2015 with a top NFL official to request more opportunities for Black businesses. Williams said the NFL does business with very few Black companies.

“The NFL only has 0.5% of Black companies doing anything,” he said, adding that only two Black vendors in the U.S. had licensing agreements in 2015 to sell NFL gear.

“It is appalling that since that meeting – that’s seven years ago – the needle has not moved as it relates to Black businesses doing business with the NFL,” Williams said.

With Black athletes making up 70% of all NFL players, the group is pushing the league to sign more contracts with Black-owned businesses and to hire more people of color.

Representatives from the Black press – including the Crusader, N’DIGO and the Chicago Defender – said barriers remain for Black media to cover major sports events, and there’s a lack of representation in the NFL’s marketing and advertising. Highlighting the importance of sports in the Black community, the group said the NFL should do more advertising in Black-owned media.

“We represent the authentic voice of Chicago and Evanston’s Black community,” Hartman said. “We are the link to the Black community and to Black businesses.”

Hartman, N’DIGO’s founder, emphasized the importance of sports teams doing business with Black-owned media companies rather than companies that appeal to Black audiences, like iHeartRadio.

Carl West, founder of TBT News, said, “We engage in sports; we all host events and attend games from baseball, basketball, football, hockey. There is no reason why our media outlets should not be getting business from major professional sport franchises.”

The Black-owned media outlet leaders also shared obstacles they’ve encountered in getting access to cover professional sports events.

“We barely get an opportunity to even go and cover these professional sporting events,” West said. Often, Black-owned media submit their press credentials yet get rejected or do not get invited to games and other events, he said said.

Leavell said Black-owned media like the Crusader have experienced significant difficulties getting into Bears games. The Bears have twice rejected the Crusader’s requests to access the press box despite following all their protocols, said Crusader sports reporter Joseph Phillips.

It wasn’t until they reached out to NFL representatives that the team started to make changes. The NFL has shown an interest in increasing African American representation in the press, Phillips said.

Black-owned media companies employ people from the Black community and can help deliver the message that the NFL is a partner of the Black community, Ford said.

“When we’re talking about Black press, Black media, there is no way that they can get it wrong,” he said. “This is low-hanging fruit for the NFL to engage with Black press and Black businesses …

“This is an opportunity for the NFL to say, ‘Yes, we would like to engage with Black businesses, to do our part, to make sure that we can help communities develop and grow, and try to put people to work and try to help with the violence that is happening in the streets,’” Ford said.

The Austin lawmaker said the Bears could lead the charge and show the rest of the NFL how to engage with Black businesses.

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