The Complex Politics of the NFL Super Bowl Halftime Show

Does this mean Sharkira and Jennifer Lopez are "sell outs"?

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The NFL continues to have a controversial relationship with the media years after blackballing former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for protesting the national anthem on September 1st, 2016 at the teams final preseason game. Kneeling, intended to call attention to the country’s failure to recognize and respond to the conditions of black lives of men, women and children of color in the United States, has become a symbol for social justice and one that has cost Kaepernick a portion of his $126 million contract and possibly his career as professional football player. Colin continues to play up this monumental image in a series of different services to his community, winning the 2017 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, locking in multi-million dollar partnerships like the recent one with Nike and above all settling a lawsuit against the NFL alleging collusion in that he was denied an opportunity to play again. According to the Know Your Rights Camp the NFL continues to shun Colin for his politics and not his play, despite the player continuing to practice five days a week for the past 3 years. “Colin is literally in the best shape of his life,” a source close to Kaepernick told NBC. “He’s been working out five days a week at 5 a.m. for three years. He wants to play and his agent has been contacting teams in need of a quarterback.” Despite the efforts, Colin’s actions as a social activist have sparked an ongoing conversation among the media that continues to challenge the expectations set before us.

Last year, one of the leading conversations that sparked this controversy was Jay Z’s support for Colin shortly after the protest. Primarily, Jay sided with Colin wearing a Kaep jersey during his 2016 SNL performance, shading the NFL on the 2018 hit “Ape Sh*t” and even voicing his discouragement of Super Bowl Halftime performer Travi$ Scott for his involvement that year. However, those perspectives along with the anti-capitalistic ones voiced throughout the 4:44 album became questioned once Roc Nation formed a deal with the NFL as management of entertainment with a focus on the Super Bowl halftime show and amplify its social justice program platform. “I think we’re past kneeling. I think it’s time for action,” Jay-Z stated while announcing the deal last week. Fans and critics speculated if HOV’s involvement in the halftime show would strengthen the fight by using the platform to shine light on Kaepernick’s efforts or if the partnership would continue to banish Kaep by using the partnership to “move forward”. Jay claimed that he had had a conversation with Kaepernick before closing the NFL deal, but refused to share the details of their talk. Kaepernick’s girlfriend, Hot 97 radio personality Nessa Diab, called that “a lie,” saying that Kaepernick was “never included in any discussion” with Jay-Z or the NFL about their eventual partnership. The narrative comes off as a “don’t hate the player, hate the game” attitude with the partnership effectively turning one of the NFL’s most vocal (and certainly one of its most powerful) critics into a paid contractor.

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Most recently another Roc Nation artist caught headlines for her perspective on the matter. In a recent Vogue interview Rihanna, a supporter of Colin Kaepernick, told interviewers that she “absolutely” turned down a chance to headline the Super Bowl Halftime show. “I couldn’t dare do that. For what? Who gains from that? Not my people. I just couldn’t be a sellout. I couldn’t be an enabler. There’s things within that organization that I do not agree with at all, and I was not about to go and be of service to them in any way.” These headlines come moments after Jennifer Lopez and Shakira announce they’ll be headlining this year’s stage together. “I’m so honored to be taking on one of the world’s biggest stages in the company of a fellow female artist to represent Latinos and Latinas from the U.S. and all over the world — and to top it off, on my birthday! This is a true American dream and we are going to bring the show of a lifetime,” Shakira stated in response to the announcement. However, after years of controversy between the NFL, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and several other NFL players who’ve protested racial injustice and police brutality on the field, it’s unsettling to call this performance the “American Dream”. Especially considering the multitudes of mistreatment fellow latinos and latinas have faced in this country this year. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” Juliana Pache told Remezcla in a piece highlighting the politics of the upcoming performance.

Of course, Shakira and Jennifer Lopez are world class entertainers that will truly bring excitement and flair to the biggest stage on earth. However, we must recognize how this stage represents where we stand as a country. Whereas Colin Kaepernick stood up for injustices against minorities, organizations like the NFL and most recently Roc Nation work toward moving past this moment without any meaningful solutions. Several things are obvious here: The NFL wants Kaepernick’s grievance to go away; Kaepernick is making incredible sacrifices with his protest, which may very well cost him his football career; and, finally, history repeats itself. When John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in 1968 to protest racial injustice and inequality, they were met with public shaming and ridicule. They were also shunned from athletic opportunities for years to come. We’re seeing this same playbook unfold today as history unfortunately repeats itself.

What do you think? Will you be watching the 2020 Superbowl Halftime Show? Sound off in the comments below!

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