Last night, 100 million people watched as Maroon 5, Travis Scott and Big Boi took music’s biggest stage for the Super Bowl half-time show. Headlines skewered their performance, calling it at best “inessential,” and at worst “the worst ever.” But I wasn’t concerned about Adam Levine stripping off his shirt, or his awkward dancing next to Travis Scott. I was waiting for the band to take a knee.
I started a Change.org petition asking Maroon 5 to boycott the NFL and drop out of the Super Bowl half-time show. When they confirmed and added Travis Scott and Big Boi to the bill, 115,000 people joined me in asking them to take a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. In his only pre-show interview with ET, Adam Levine promised that those who kneel with Kaepernick would be heard.
But Maroon 5 wasn’t a “voice for the voiceless", as Levine promised. Kaepernick, however, sacrificed his career to speak up for people like me. He is the true voice of the people.
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard that Kaepernick had taken a knee during the national anthem. It sent a sudden jolt through my body to realize that someone had risked so much to speak up for people who look like me.
In that moment, it felt to me like black people were being killed every week: Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald (whose killer just received a sentence of less than 7 years), Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, to name a few. Out of everyone, I was most devastated to learn about the killing of Terence Crutcher, the brother of a friend and mentor of mine. Watching him gunned down on camera was a feeling that I’ll never forget. Terence’s murder changed things for me. I started taking action, including launching this petition.
Reports on the CBS broadcast noted how the NFL tried to make clear that they were on the side of racial justice. They ran a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr and had his daughter, Bernice King, performed the coin toss, standing with civil rights leaders John Lewis and Andrew Young. The announcers reminded viewers before nearly every commercial that Maroon 5 had donated $500,000 to Big Brothers Big Sisters.
In my view, the NFL would rather pay lip service to the civil rights movement of the past than re-sign a civil rights hero of today. But let us not forget that this is the same league that exiled Kaepernick for engaging in a protest that was significantly less “disruptive” than those lead by King, Lewis, and Young. They even went so far as to cancel the standard pre-half-time show press conference on behalf of Maroon 5, presumably to avoid any questions about Kaepernick.
Nearly 70 per cent of the league’s players are black, but the NFL refuses to acknowledge the realities that these men face off the field.
The performers did nothing to honour Kaepernick and his protest during the half-time show, but the petition I created, as well as countless other efforts towards reminding people about the NFL’s position, changed the conversation long before they stepped onstage. Because of campaigns like these, the road to the Super Bowl wasn’t smooth for Maroon 5.
Controversy followed them from the moment rumours surfaced that they might replace Rihanna, who reportedly refused to perform in solidarity with Kaepernick. The media reported that the band couldn’t find anyone to play with them. They only confirmed that they’d perform just three weeks before Super Bowl Sunday (in comparison, Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga had been confirmed long before Thanksgiving the years that they played).
The half-time stage is forever tainted thanks to petitions like mine, and future artists will have a hard time saying “yes” to the gig if they want to preserve their integrity.
Levine was never going to be the hero that brought us into the future or delivered justice to people losing their fathers, sisters, or sons to police violence. But taking a stand would have sent a message to the NFL and the millions of people watching the game.
There are people like Rihanna and Cardi B who know that taking a stand means missing out on some things, and they are willing to make that sacrifice to do what’s right. I hope more will follow in their footsteps.
The fight didn’t end last night. From here on out, there will be a cost to performers who choose to endorse the NFL by taking the half-time stage, this year and every year until Kaepernick plays again.
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