Breaking down the Super Bowl Halftime Show controversy

Backlash follows after Maroon 5, Travis Scott announced as performers

Maroon 5 will be headlining the Halftime Show in Atlanta.
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You don’t have to be a football fan to know ex-NFL player Colin Kaepernick. 

The quarterback-turned-activist famously took a knee during the National Anthem in 2016 in protest of racial inequality and police brutality in America. Since then, he’s been exiled from the league while standing at the centre of its controversies regarding athletes and activism.

The recent announcement of the Super Bowl Halftime performers has brought Kaepernick back into the spotlight, as fans question why their favourite artists are aligning themselves with the controversial football league.

The NFL confirmed this past weekend that the long-rumoured headliner for this year’s Halftime Show in Atlanta would be Maroon 5. Rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi will join them onstage during the show to perform their own sets. The announcement comes on the heels of reports that the league was struggling to find anyone to perform.

After all 32 NFL teams were unwilling to sign Kaepernick due to his kneeling during the national anthem, many artists—including Rhianna, Pink and Jay-Z—refused association with the Super Bowl in support his cause. 

Cardi B, who seemed likely to join Maroon 5 after her feature on their newest hit, “Girls Like You,” similarly dropped out of discussions to perform at the halftime show until “[the league] hires Kaepernick back.” 

Even before the official announcement, rumours that Maroon 5 would be performing had a backlash. A petition titled “Maroon 5: Drop out of the Super Bowl Halftime Show” went viral and reached almost 85,000 signatures of their 150,000-signature goal. The petition now asks that the band, along with Scott and Big Boi, take a knee during the game’s national anthem in protest.

Scott’s agreement to perform was met with similar disappointment amidst reported attempts by others to talk him out of it. His involvement with the show came with a stipulation though: he agreed to perform as long as the NFL donated $500,000 to “social justice accelerator,” Dream Corps.

“I back anyone who takes a stand for what they believe in,” Scott said in a statement after the announcement. “I know being an artist that it’s my power to inspire. So before confirming the Super Bowl Halftime performance I made sure to partner with the NFL on this important donation.”

Scott is right: artists do have the power to inspire. Celebrities need to recognize they’re considered by many as role models, especially in North American pop culture.

Artists like Maroon 5 and Travis Scott have a growing amount of power and influence, and the decisions they make can have a huge impact on how other people act.

Celebrities standing up for causes has led to positive change. Stars like Beyoncé, Leonardo DiCarprio and Bono have used their fame to become some of the world’s leading philanthropists. Americans look up to people they admire, which gives celebrities the chance to set an example and inspire their fans to take a stand on important issues.

With many football players risking their entire careers to take a knee in protest of police brutality, refusing to do a single performance—even one as prestigious as the Super Bowl Halftime show—seems like the least these artists can do in for social change.

While the $500,000 the NFL will donate under Scott’s instruction is substantial and will create positive change, a charitable contribution cannot make up for how the NFL has treated Kaepernick and other players who’ve tried to raise awareness for important issues.

The willingness of Maroon 5 and the other performers to align themselves with the NFL helps the public forget about the sacrifices made by Kaepernick and countless others who’ve taken a stand for what they believe in.

Colin Kaepernick sacrificed his career to stand up against violent racism in America. In 50 years, we’ll know he was on the right side of history—unlike the artists aiding the league going against him.

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