Posted on February 4, 2019

No Kneeling During Super Bowl LIII National Anthem, but Still Plenty of Talk

Ken Belson, New York Times, February 4, 2019

Dr. Bernice A. King, the youngest child of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, was brought out to midfield for the coin toss before the start of Super Bowl LIII. She was joined by two other titanic civil rights leaders, Ambassador Andrew Young and Representative John Lewis.

Before the game began, the N.F.L. also played a video in the stadium that included images of Dr. King and other civil rights leaders, interspersed with images of N.F.L. players doing charity work.

On television, CBS ran a public service announcement that showed Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league executives touring the Ebenezer Baptist Church and other landmarks associated with Martin Luther King Jr.


The presence of the civil rights leaders did not seem to win over supporters of the player, Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who in 2016 began taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality against people of color and has not played a down since that season.

Even before the game, many resolved not to watch, including the film director Ava DuVernay, who accused the N.F.L. of “racist treatment of @Kaepernick7” and lamented an “ongoing disregard for the health + well-being of players.”


And the presence of the civil rights leaders was met with confusion, and in some cases derision, by those who feel Kaepernick has been blackballed.

“Ummmm why are Bernice King, John Lewis, and Andrew Young standing on this field giving the N.F.L. cover,” wrote the voting rights advocate Kat Calvin.

Yet the overture spoke to an effort by the N.F.L. to thread the needle between appeasing conservative fans {snip} and addressing the questions and criticism it has received over racial issues.

It has undertaken a public relations move to line up African-American figures who either have objected to Kaepernick’s form of protest or are willing to look past it. {snip}


In the end, Gladys Knight, who had taken aim at Kaepernick for kneeling during the song, sung the national anthem. No players knelt, the moment far less weighted than it has been in the past.


As Knight sang the anthem, the Air Force Thunderbirds flew over Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the retractable roof was opened for the occasion. During a timeout in the third quarter, military veterans who won the Medal of Honor were shown on the stadium scoreboard and given a standing ovation. Military veterans in the stadium were encouraged to stand as well.


In the coming months, Kaepernick’s grievance accusing the league of colluding to keep him off a team will be ruled on by an arbitrator hearing the case.