Next weekend’s Super Bowl LIII is shaping up to be the least-watched Super Bowl in quite some time.
We’ve got the NFL’s now years-old public relations fallout following the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick for his kneeling protest during the National Anthem (and the league’s shitty behavior since). We’ve got increased scrutiny to long-term injuries that come from playing professional football. And we’ve also got crappier games in general — the New England Patriots are going to the big show again, which is about as interesting as checking out the same library book out over and over. All of that is resulting in folks changing the channel.
The Kaepernick fiasco has resulted in a spotlight shining on the Black performers scheduled for this year’s Super Bowl: Travis Scott and Big Boi are slated to perform during the vaunted halftime show; and Gladys Knight will sing the National Anthem at the beginning of the game. Big-ticket artists like Rihanna have told the NFL to kick all the rocks, Jay-Z allegedly tried to get Travis Scott not to go through with it., and Common publicly said he wished Scott would change his mind. Knight, Scott and Big Boi have caught several degrees of shade for what’s perceived as a sellout decision.
First of all, I can’t abide dragging Knight for anything short of the mass murder of young children. She’s an absolute f—ing legend, and sperm-you might have never met egg-you without her music. Still, the league’s decision to have her sing the anthem comes off like a slick decision to capitulate to its Black fans without actually putting in real work. It also seems obvious that they chose Big Boi as a three-times-removed backup plan, considering he’s the less-interesting half of a group that folks would actually want to see.
Sellouts? Not So Fast
The suggestion that these artists are sellouts or that we need to do some wild shit like delete all of our OutKast music is a bridge too far. For starters, the NFL is still a predominantly Black sport: nearly 70 percent of its players are Black men. Many young Black men enter the league with much better financial opportunities to care for their families than they might obtain elsewhere. I haven’t heard any of the people calling for the heads of Knight or Scott do the same for these men despite that they’re all being paid for a service by the NFL.
Also, I choose to be optimistic about these artists taking the opportunity to make a political statement with the platform, as several of their predecessors have. The Super Bowl remains the most watched broadcast in any given year – Big Boi and Scott can do something with that in service of Black folks. Auntie Gladys likely wouldn’t do much past deliver a statement on her decision, but imagine her bringing down the house Whitney-style and dropping to one knee after “home of the brave.” Goosebumps, yo.
Because it merits mention here, protesting the Super Bowl is different than Chrisette Michelle’s galactically stupid decision to perform at the last presidential inauguration – one that has apparently crippled her career for good. Performing for a problematic-yet-perennially popular sporting event is different than performing in celebration of the presidency of a man whom Black folks reject en masse.
Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that the Black performers singing a few songs and collecting a check aren’t the enemy here – the assholes who run the league and have allowed Kaepernick’s career to essentially come to an end deserve the true dragging. Not switching on the big game when you’d otherwise watch it is a noble means to exercise your frustration with the NFL’s behavior. However, if you’re one of those idjits who fixes their fingers to talk trash about Scott on Twitter yet still plans to watch the game with your homies and all the buffalo wings you can eat, log off and go sit down in a corner somewhere.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. Miraculously, people have paid him to be aggressively light-skinned via a computer keyboard for nearly two decades. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at his own site, wafflecolored.com.