Sunday’s Super Bowl was the first one played in a global pandemic, the first to feature a female referee (Sarah Thomas), and the first to include poetry.
The poet who electrified President Biden’s inauguration, Amanda Gorman, read her poem titled “Chorus of the Captains” during the pregame. Gorman is African American, as are many of the performers and players.
But the NFL’s record on racial equality has been lacking. Until recently, the league did not allow players to silently protest police brutality or kneel during the national anthem.
So it was conspicuous that there were a lot of racial justice messages at the Super Bowl this year. Players sported the names of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd on their helmets in NFL spots. One spot pledged $250 million to help end systemic racism.
“There's definitely a certain level of pandering going on,” says Jay Connor, founder and co-host of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. “Throughout the course of the season, we saw the NFL play the Black national anthem, they were putting messaging on helmets, they were putting stencils on the field with Black Lives Matter.”
He adds that in June, the NFL announced its plans to spend $250 million over the next 10 years to combat systemic racism and social injustice.
He says it’s curious that the league is taking these steps only after the death of George Floyd and what happened with Colin Kapernick. “How can you treat Kaepernick in the way that you did, but also say that he inspired change and he inspired these whole campaigns? It doesn't make sense.”
Connor says he believes the NFL can’t assert that Black lives matter while donating to Republican political action committees. “Republican candidates have notoriously been one of the biggest adversaries of the movement for Black lives. So it just sounds like they're just trying to have their cake and eat it too.”
When it comes to hiring, he says two of the last NFL coaches are Black. “We just literally saw one of the most well-qualified coaches, Eric Mahaney, not get a job. So I mean, they still have a lot, a lot, a lot to do in regards to addressing these situations.”
The national anthem
R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan sang alongside country musician Eric Church.
He says first and foremost, Jazmine Sullivan can do no wrong and “her voice is probably the cure for COVID-19.”
“But as far as the racial reconciliation national anthem thing that they had going on, it didn't sit well with me, particular because of the ongoing controversy surrounding Morgan Wallen in regards to him being found on tape … spewing the N word. And to me, it's just interesting that they specifically sought out an R&B artist and a country artist to kind of do this. And the timing is just horrible.”
Connor says The Weeknd show was cool. But he suggests it was also confusing.
“If you got rid of the lights and all the dancing and everything, like the performance itself, to me, it left a lot to be desired. It felt like he was pretending to be lost in a plastic surgeon's office. I didn't quite understand what he was trying to do.”
In a way, the Weeknd was exactly what the NFL was looking for, Connor says. “In regards to finding somebody who's going to be a safe pick, who's not going to be too risky, or not going to be too political, somebody who's just going to go out there, perform and just so happens to be Black while the NFL is on this kick. So I mean, he checked every box. But unfortunately, he left the last one unchecked as far as providing a good performance,” says Connor.