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Eifert’s Decision to Honor David Dorn Will Test Limits of League’s New Social Justice Policy

by Christopher Ball

In early September, former Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert announced that he would choose to honor the memory of David Dorn, a retired St. Louis police captain who was killed in June of this year.

Christopher Ball is a longtime Loveland resident and an attorney

Eifert was selected by the Bengals in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft and played his first seven seasons in Cincinnati. He recently signed a 2-year $9.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he hopes to make a comeback after several injury-plagued seasons with the Bengals. 

In addition to a new chapter in his NFL career, Eifert plans to wear a decal honoring Mr. Dorn this season, as part of the league’s recent decision to allow players to wear decals on the back of their helmets 

The NFL’s new stance is a stark reversal from its prior positions. In 2016 the league refused to allow Dallas Cowboys players to wear decals to honor five police officers killed by a sniper in downtown Dallas. Even Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys, felt that allowing players to put unique messages on their helmets or wear pink to honor cancer survivors, would open “Pandora’s Box’ that would be difficult to ultimately control. In 2013 Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall was fined for wearing green shoes to highlight issues surrounding mental health. 

Whatever you may think of his opinions, Colin Kaepernick’s visible on-field protests against systemic racism and police violence are unquestionably a large part of the reason that he is no longer playing football. Prior to 2020, it was clear that the National Football League was doing all that it could to keep politics, protests, and uniform variance out of its brand. 

Now that has all changed. 

Roger Goodell has admitted that both he and the league were wrong for not listening to protesting players sooner. The new decal initiative is the National Football League’s attempt to, at least in part, allow its players to express their non-football opinions on the field, while they are at work, doing their jobs. While the new rules were ultimately put in place to allow players to place decals on their helmets “bearing names or initials of victims of systemic racism and police violence” Eifert’s choice sends a different message, one very similar to those of the 2016 Dallas Cowboys. Eifert himself has a long history of supporting military and first responders during his career, and so his choice to honor David Dorn is not surprising.  

What will be interesting to see is whether the league will allow him to wear a decal honoring Dorn even though, by most standards, the slain police captain is not a “victim of systemic racism or police violence.” Early reports suggest that the players will be allowed to pick from an approved list of names, with options such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. While the NFL has not officially released its policy on decals, nor have they provided the complete list of names from which its players can choose, Eifert’s decision to honor Dorn is one that will no doubt spark debate on the boundaries of the NFL’s new policy. 

Whether it opens Pandora’s box, as Jerry Jones once feared, is yet to be seen.

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