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The Super Bowl LIII is the perfect place not to be complacent

July 18, 2019

From Colin Kaepernick to Rihanna to Lebron James, performers and athletes have a social responsibility as human beings to combat systemic racism.

Travis Scott (Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Governors Ball), Maroon 5’s Adam Levine (Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)

By Brooklyn O'Neill

Last year, the Super Bowl had an audience of approximately 103. 4 million. This year, the Super Bowl and the halftime show had the opportunity to be so much more than just entertainment. The event is scratching the surface of some, deeply embedded, systemic racism, and has the potential to start impactful conversations about injustice if the performers and athletes choose.

However, the choice itself is a privilege, and the choice to be complacent is choosing to be an enabler of racism.

Social justice advocate and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, exercised his own personal agency by kneeling during the U.S. national anthem for the first time on September 1st, 2016. Since then, Kaepernick has received an outpour of support, accompanied by a share of hate. Nevertheless, his movement has sparked activism and constructive conversation in the sports and entertainment industry.

Basketball all-star, LeBron James, showed his support for Kaepernick in December of 2018, by publicly expressing his distaste for the NFL’s management. Further, James shared that the NBA believes in a player’s potential as a human not just as an athlete, while the NFL is looking for a Sunday night performance, not reflection of racial injustice.

Some might argue that there is no place for politics in sports, but the NFL is too powerful of a business to not address the socio-political arena of racism in which it operates. This, is why the Super Bowl is the best place for performers and players to take some accountability and engage in dialogue about the oppressive system they are participating in.

As for the halftime show, Rihanna expressed her support for the protest as she had reportedly been offered the headline performance at this Sunday’s show, but declined the offer to honour her solidarity with Kaepernick.

Maroon 5 landed the gig with Travis Scott and Big Boi, but not without feeling the slightest amount of social responsibility. Scott agreed to join Maroon 5 at the halftime show on the condition that the NFL joined him in making a $500,000 charitable donation to Dream Corp, a non-profit social justice organization. Maroon 5, Interscope Records, and the NFL followed Scott’s lead by making a $500,000 donation five days prior to the big event, to the organization Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

I think we call Maroon 5, Scott and the NFL’s efforts a “good try.”

For perspective, the NFL generated $15 billion dollars in revenue the past 2018-2019 season. The not-even-one million dollar contribution is a poor excuse for not only the NFL to consider a charitable donation, but also for Scott and Maroon 5 to demand as a condition of their performance. Disrupting systemic racism requires a Super Bowl-sized stage for conversation and equal amounts of action.

Football fan or not, we have watched the career of Colin Kaepernick shift from football player to social justice advocate, whether he liked it or not, because the NFL decided he was too disruptive to their oppressive system. But look at the incredibly positive repercussions; other players feeling empowered to protest peacefully, an impactful NIKE ad and ‘Citizen of the Year’, to name a few.

The NFL and the Super Bowl have been around for 53 years and it is certainly time to think critically about the role that the organization, the athletes, and the performers play in the larger, societal aspect of injustice. Peaceful protest, denying participation in a racist organization, and speaking out from a position of power, are all efforts that figures of timid activism, such as Maroon 5 and Travis Scott, should consider when aiding the dismantling of systemic racial injustice.