Last Sunday was one of the biggest television events of the year- the Super Bowl. And with so many eyes watching, the NFL knew how important it was to address some of the controversies the league has faced in recent times. However with little backing their actions, these steps felt performative. After decades of not properly addressing their issues, the NFL will have to do more if they actually want to put their money where their mouth is.
Before the game even started, the NFL did the most to show they were #woke by having Miley Cyrus perform in the pregame show. Fans of Cyrus know there’s little she hides and is quite the open book when it comes to her sexuality, making her a bold choice considering how Janet Jackson was demonized for her accidental nip-slip at the 2004 Super Bowl. Viacom, the parent company responsible for the half-time show claimed that Jackson “engineered” the moment despite co-performer Justin Timberlake being the one to rip her top, resulting in her uncensored breast being exposed for 9/16th of a second. Timberlake saw no repercussions for this incident, in fact, it made him even more of a household name while Jackson’s music was blacklisted from all of Viacom’s channels, including MTV, VH1, and their multiple radio stations. Eventually, other companies followed suit. CBS (another Viacom channel) also rescinded Jackson’s invitation to present at the Grammy Awards one week after the Super Bowl and was pressured into skipping the ceremony entirely. On the other hand, Timberlake was present and even won Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album.
That wasn’t the only time the NFL unfairly treated its women performers. At the 2012 Super Bowl British rapper/ singer M.I.A. was fined $16.6 million after flashing a middle finger during Madonna’s half-time show. The NFL claimed the incident caused "flagrant disregard for the values that form the cornerstone of the NFL brand and the Super Bowl." Yeah, the same NFL that gave Ray Rice a slap on the wrist for abusing his now-wife Janay Palmer. Eventually, M.I.A. was pressured into settling with the NFL for an undisclosed amount.
In the years that followed Rice’s incident, more cases of abuse from NFL players came to light. Earlier this month, Seattle Seahawks Offensive Tackle Chad Wheeler was released from jail after posting $400,000 bail while he awaits trial after assaulting his ex-girlfriend Alleah Taylor. Since Rice’s incident, Many have criticized the NFL for not doing enough despite promising to take more action, and they have yet to directly address Wheeler’s abuse.
This past year was also a major one for the Black Lives Matter movement. A movement former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is a huge supporter of. In August 2016, Kaepernick decided to sit during the National Anthem to stand in solidarity with the black community who don’t feel like they are given the “liberty and justice for all” this country promises. After some backlash claiming he was disrespecting the military and veterans, Kaepernick decided to kneel instead. Kaepernick felt it was important to sit down with Retired Army Green Beret Nate Boyer and find an alternative that still supported the black community without disrespecting veterans and the military. They came to the compromise of kneeling.
“...And soldiers often take a knee in front of a fallen brother's grave to pay respects. So I thought, if anything, besides standing, that was the most respectful. But, of course, that's just my opinion.” Boyer said in an interview with NPR.
Despite support from vets like Boyer, the general public and the NFL were not fond of Kaepernick’s decision. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the Associated Press that although he supports the players “I don’t necessarily agree with what he’s doing.” In March 2017, Kaepernick decided not to continue his NFL contract and opted to become a free agent instead. Nearly four years later, Kaepernick still does not have a job with the NFL. Instead of trying to employ Kaepernick, the NFL has pledged $250 million over 10 years to help fight racial injustice. While that’s definitely a good chunk of money, keep in mind that the NFL made $15.26 billion in revenue in 2019 alone. This year the NFL also decided to air a commercial about racial equality during the Super Bowl with the goal to “inspire change.” However, Kaepernick was left out of the ad entirely.
Photo by Max Becherer via nola.com
The final nail in the coffin was when MAGA darling Tom Brady was seen this season with “end racism” written on the back of his helmet. If Brady really cared about ending racism he wouldn’t support the openly racist, former President Donald Trump.
After years of performative activism, this is getting exhausting. If the NFL really cared, they’d put their money where their mouth is and actually do what they promise in their Super Bowl ads, instead of just trying to make themselves look good.