Super Bowl LVII was the biggest entertainment event of 2022-23, when about 113 million people tuned in to watch the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles. It was sponsored by the National Football League (NFL), which has a history of virulent racism.
The NFL is a cartel of 32 corporations owned by non-Black billionaires. The billionaire owners employ super-talented football players, about 70 percent of whom are Black.
NFL racist history
Gustavus Adolphus College Professor Kare Aguilar has noted, “Initially the league had a few Black players, but by 1933 they were banned, with no Black players allowed in the NFL between 1933 and 1946… It was not until 1962 that the last team, what is now the Washington Commanders, desegregated.”
Colin Kaepernick, the courageous Black former quarterback, who took a knee to protest racism, has not yet found a place in the NFL. Richard McGahey, an economist at the New School’s Schwartz Center, observed that despite the “efforts in part by the league’s strong union, the NFL Players Association, which successfully fought to protect players who take a knee during the national anthem, the player most responsible for taking a knee—Colin Kaepernick—has been shunned by teams ever since, and likely won’t ever play in the NFL again.”
NFL Black Lives Matter
As a result of the pressure of the racial justice movement, the NFL has announced numerous initiatives to combat what they called “systemic racism.” For the third year in a row, the league featured a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song that has been dubbed the “Black National Anthem,” before the Super Bowl game.
Professor Kare Aguilar said that the meaning of Super Bowl LVII offered an opportunity to see sports as a stage for examining our beliefs and putting them in their proper historical and cultural context.
Patriotism, sports and history
American patriotism was prominently displayed at the Super Bowl LVII with the fly-by of the United States Air Force jets, the singing of the national anthem, and the presence of many American flags.
American sports have a long, ugly, racist history. Whenever Black people challenge racism in sports, we are hypocritically accused of bringing race into a colorblind event or disrupting and spoiling an entertaining social event. If sports should be strictly about athletic competition and nothing else, then why is American nationalism part of major sporting events, not to mention anti-Black racism that has historically been a part of organized American sporting events?
Because most people have been taught American mythology rather than accurate American history, they are not aware of the racist history of the national anthem, which was based on a poem written in 1814 during the War of 1812 by Francis Scott Key, a devout Episcopalian, slave owner, and lawyer who represented White owners of runaway enslaved people.
In contrast, the unofficial Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” was written 123 years ago by James Weldon Johnson, an NAACP official, teacher, and Black civil rights fighter who was active during the height of lynching and White terrorism against Black people.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is about liberty and the struggle against racism. Although it is traditionally performed mainly at Black events, it was performed by Sheryl Lee Ralph at this Super Bowl before kickoff.
White right-wing knee jerk reaction
Dr. Julianne Malveaux, a prominent Black political economist, said that “even that mild gesture of inclusion has been attacked by some. Congressional Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO), one of the House’s hyper-aggressive conservative members, “raged” on Twitter that singing “Lift Every Voice” meant the NFL is “trying to divide us… Do football, not wokeness.” Congresswoman Boebert’s comments are typical of those on social media:
- “ This country has only 1 National Anthem: “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which applies to all Americans. The idea of a Black anthem specifically for one race is divisive and racist.”
- “When you sing two separate anthems in the same country you are essentially saying there are two Americas for two groups of Americans. This is getting ridiculous, and it just may well trickle into schools next if it hasn’t already.”
- “Alienating 87% of the population is not inclusive.”
- “The United States of America has only ONE National Anthem! God bless America.”
The twisted logic of the White right-wing views racial inclusion as the cause of division, an anthem written by a slave owner as a freedom song, and a racist business cartel as simply a league of football teams.
Real systemic racial division
Dr. Julianne Malveaux brings us back to the social reality of sports as she notes that “Black players for the Chiefs’ AFL and 1970 Super Bowl IV champions couldn’t find housing in segregated Kansas City neighborhoods. These racist practices remain today, in both Kansas City and Philadelphia, and across the country.
“Black families across the nation couldn’t buy houses due to a wide range of formal and informal racist practices and segregated metropolitan governments and suburbs. And some recent research finds America’s large metropolitan areas are getting more segregated, not less.”
Black excellence and the Super Bowl
Black talent and excellence (athletes and musical artists) made Super Bowl LVII a magnificent event. The Super Bowl event was produced with superb Black talent but controlled by non-Black owners.
The main performing artists in the Super Bowl halftime show were mostly Black music performers. This is a modern-day example of how Black labor and talent are controlled by White capitalists. Let us not forget that the United States was founded on racial division and continues to be divided by the White ruling elite.
Dr. Luke Tripp is a professor at St. Cloud State University.