NFL exploits civil rights leaders for PR gain

NFL exploits civil rights leaders for PR gain

Photo Credits: CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE

Super Bowl highlights league’s hypocrisy in addressing racial issues

Last Sunday, about 100 million people tuned in to watch Super Bowl LIII and witnessed the New England Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3, in the lowest scoring Super Bowl in history. While the game itself was rather uneventful, the National Football League nevertheless used its biggest day of the year to stage a massive public relations effort amid ongoing controversy.

It has been less than three years since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner” in protest of racial injustice and police brutality. To this day, Kaepernick is a free agent and hasn’t played a down in the NFL since 2017, even as other less-talented quarterbacks continue to make professional rosters. This prompted Kaepernick to file an ongoing lawsuit against the NFL, claiming that the league and its team owners colluded to keep him from signing with a team following his protests.

While Kaepernick has spent the last two years effectively ostracised from the NFL, players and personnel have continued to emulate the demonstrations that Kaepernick started. Faced with criticism from President Donald Trump and others who disapproved of the protests, the NFL approved a policy in May of 2018 that required players to either stand during the national anthem or remain inside the locker room while it’s played. The change was never actually implemented, however, after it was put on hold following backlash from the NFL Players Association.

Before the 53rd Super Bowl kicked off, the NFL proceeded to open the game in ironic fashion. First, legendary soul singer Gladys Knight sang the national anthem after telling Variety that she aimed to “free” the song from its association with Kaepernick’s divisive protests. The NFL then ran a video featuring images of and speeches from civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. His daughter and CEO of The King Center, Dr. Bernice A. King, was accompanied on the field by civil rights leader Andrew Young and Congressman John Lewis as she conducted the game’s official coin toss. Even though King’s explanation as to why she chose to participate alongside Young and Lewis was rooted in the admirable mission of justice for all and building bridges, it’s obvious that the NFL lobbied the services of King and others to give the appearance of an entity sympathetic to issues facing people of color.

Just a mile away, meanwhile, a local artist’s mural depicting Kaepernick lay in a pile of rubble after it was destroyed days prior to kickoff. As of now, there is no evidence to suggest that the NFL was responsible for the destruction of the mural, but the hypocrisy of the league in regards to its treatment of social justice advocates is clear. For a league that has tried so hard to distance itself from a player who peacefully protested against racial inequality, the NFL’s attempt at honoring the legacies of those who have dedicated their lives to combating injustice is completely disingenuous. It’s doubtful that the NFL has learned its lesson and now suddenly wants to right the wrongs of its recent hostile treatment of politically outspoken players.

If the NFL sincerely desires to honor the legacy of the civil rights leaders it chose to recognize on Sunday, it must address its suppressive actions in response to player expression and promote equality for people of all backgrounds. The Super Bowl’s opening spectacle will remain an empty and inadequate gesture unless Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s cohort of owners can make tangible changes to put player dignity over profit.

Written by: The Editorial Board