Sports leagues need to take real action rather than merely focusing on performative activism
The Super Bowl LVI halftime show was one that brought levels of excitement, nostalgia and a long-awaited focus on hip-hop. Since the beginning of musical performances at the Super Bowl in 1993, there had never been a hip-hop headliner until this past weekend when the world got to see Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent take the stage. Yet, with what has happened in the past and what is currently ongoing with the NFL, the halftime show took the same performative approach as in recent years.
Viewers took notice that there were a few lyrics missing throughout the performance. While it is common that curse words be removed because it is on television and also a “family event,” a significant word from Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy award-winning song “Alright” was omitted from the performance. A line in the song reads, “And we hate po-po,” and the word po-po — commonly used as slang for police — was left out by Lamar. It is unclear whether he left it out himself or was censored, as the camera zoomed out to a birds-eye view at that moment in the song. Regardless, the omission of that word — in a powerful, inspiring song that was released in response to police brutality — takes away from the meaning of the song.
A moment later in “Still D.R.E.,” Dr. Dre uttered his line “Still not lovin’ police.” Again, it is unknown whether Dr. Dre went against the NFL’s wishes since the league has not commented on the matter.
“There were a few things that we had to change, but it was like really minor things,” Dr. Dre said after the performance. Still, he did not specify what or why the changes were needed.
Perhaps the biggest moment came when Eminem took a knee, seemingly in solidarity with former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose kneeling protest during the national anthem in 2016 in response to police brutality became national news, even outside of the sports world. Kaepernick ended up receiving a collusion settlement from the NFL in 2019 but never suited up to play in the NFL again. While the NFL said they were aware of Eminem’s plans to kneel and had no problem with it, their words have little weight compared to their past (and current) treatment of Kaepernick and others.
The NFL can throw millions of dollars toward adding decals to the back of helmets and writing “End Racism” in the endzones to “combat” systemic racism, but at what point will the league address its glaring internal problems and not just try to look good from a public relations standpoint?
Whether through the reaction to Kaepernick, the alleged racial bias in the concussion lawsuit payouts or the recent Brian Flores lawsuit that claimed a pattern of racist hiring practices — that the NFL denies and says has no merit — the league continues to fail to address any of these issues. Not only that, but it fails to encourage others from speaking out on other issues without fear of repercussions or never getting a job again.
The NFL and other leagues continue to make profit off of Black athletes without giving them a chance to hold leadership positions. The halftime performance put on felt like the NFL’s best way of toeing the line between trying to have a hip-hop influence and the audience that came with it while also trying not to lose another demographic for being “too political.”
The NFL’s problems are clear and relevant at the moment, but it doesn’t stop there. Other leagues and committees like the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have a lot of work to do in addressing racism and the perceived double standard that exists.
Prior to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva’s drug test was positive for Trimetazidine, a heart medication banned due to its potential performance-enhancing effects, but was still allowed to compete. The IOC considered that “preventing the athlete from competing at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm in the circumstances.”
Yet, prior to the Summer Olympics in 2021, Sha’Carri Richardson’s drug test was positive for THC, and she was unable to compete in the games. Even though this decision was under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the way it was handled has also been criticized. Richardson has since called into question why she wasn’t able to compete — posting a tweet comparing her situation to that of Valieva’s. In it, she stated, “The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.”
Valieva received a positive test back in December, but it was not released until February; meanwhile, Richardson’s test was released within a week, and she was subject to harsh criticism. The differing standards in how these drug tests were handled and how athletes are treated on and off the field is continuously seen in leagues and sports even on a global scale. The NFL and other leagues need to take real action to address racism in sports and not just try to preserve their public image.
Written by: The Editorial Board