For the first time in its almost 60-year run, hip-hop took center stage at the Super Bowl half-time show, resulting in a performance that may go down in history as one of the sporting events’ best ever. But even though the league pulled out all the stops to make sure that this game was one worth tuning into, we’re still giving the NFL a mean ‘ol side eye — we haven’t forgotten the league’s history of misogyny and anti-Blackness.
Unless you’re a big football fan, it’s likely that you only tuned in for Super Bowl 56 to witness the musical spectacular that was this year’s halftime show. The NFL joined forces with Dr. Dre who headlined the show. The music mogul and godfather of Cali rap brought some of his most famous collaborators and colleagues along for the big moment. He was joined on a larger-than-life stage by Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, and Eminem. Virtuoso Anderson .Paak also joined the motley crew, offering his services on the drums.
Before we get into anything else, let’s get this out of the way: as a music spectacle, the halftime show was great. These artists, who so many of us grew up with, delivered some of their greatest hits while audiences in the stands — and at home — completely lost it. Every member of the lineup did what they had to do, but, in true form, Mary J. Blige took the crown. It’s no surprise — we’re talking about the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul — but the songstress made the Super Bowl stage her own as she performed spirited renditions of two of her greatest hits. She rebuked any and all hateration and holleration in the dancery with “Family Affair,” giving us her famous footwork in sparkly silver knee-highs, before breaking our hearts with “No More Drama” and giving us a new meme to over-use for the foreseeable future.
From her honeyed vocals to her signature two-step, Blige’s performance was the highlight of a star-studded moment. If we’re keeping it real, the R&B star is a force of her own and really could have rocked the show without any of the five men she shared it with. Have you seen her resume? Blige’s work speaks for itself, yet the NFL chose to make the halftime show about “Dre Day” — just another reminder of the organization’s continuous missteps.
The first head scratcher is the NFL’s decision to recruit Dr. Dre as the star of its halftime show. As well-known as the rapper is for his role in solidifying hip-hop culture on the west coast, he’s just as notorious for being physically, emotionally, and mentally violent with women in the past. From his earliest days as a young upstart in N.W.A. to his current status as a millionaire businessman, Dr. Dre’s successful career in entertainment has been peppered with numerous examples of abuse. While doing press for N.W.A.’s box office hit biopic Straight Outta Compton, Dr. Dre publicly apologized for his abusive past, but as more instances of concerning relationships with his second wife and his own daughter made headlines, it became very clear that we were observing Dre’s alleged pattern of violence towards the woman around him. That fact alone could have been a nonstarter for the NFL, but given the league’s history of sheltering abusers, we can’t be surprised that it wasn’t a dealbreaker. Domestic violence is a disturbingly common occurrence within the league. Almost every month, we learn of a new devastating story about a football player physically abusing a woman and getting away with it while the NFL mostly feigns ignorance.
Just as troubling as hiring a noted abuser is the NFL’s not-so-slick pandering to its Black audience, a community it’s been exploiting for years. Within the past several years, discourse about the league’s attitude towards Black players and pro-Black activism has raised concern about whether or not we should divest from the game totally.
As much as the NFL would like us to believe that it genuinely cares about the plight of Black people, its treatment of its Black players and coaches says otherwise.
Colin Kaepernick is often at the forefront of this discussion, making waves after suing the league in 2017 for trying to keep him out of the league due to his active political beliefs. (Kaepernick later signed a settlement with the NFL and withdrew the suit.) Other players were later penalized for following Kaepernick’s example of protesting by kneeling on the field during the national anthem, More recently, former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores sued the NFL for racial discrimination in its hiring of coaches and executives. Flores’ class action lawsuit claims that the league’s usage of the Rooney Rule — which mandates that teams interview at least two people of color for head coaching jobs — was just for show because owners don’t take it seriously while hiring.
“The NFL remains rife with racism, particularly when it comes to the hiring and retention of Black Head Coaches, Coordinators and General Managers,” reads Flores’ suit. “In fact, the racial discrimination has only been made worse by the NFL’s disingenuous commitment to social equity.”
Points were made. As much as the NFL would like us to believe that it genuinely cares about the plight of Black people, its treatment of its Black players and coaches says otherwise. Though the Super Bowl has attracted some of the greatest Black talents of all time (including Michael Jackson, Prince, Beyoncé, Stevie Wonder, Janet Jackson, and more), the truth is obvious: Black lives don’t seen to matter all that much to the big wigs behind the league. At the end of the day, it’s all about protecting the almighty dollar with the slight semblance of solidarity.
We don’t even have to look further than this year’s game to see how short the NFL’s support stretches. When Kendrick Lamar made his grand return to the stage after a four-year hiatus, he shocked the crowd with an electric performance of “Alright.” One of the song’s most powerful lines, which touches on the frequency of Black death at the hands of the police, was noticeably censored. In contrast, Eminem made a statement of his own by kneeling during his solo moment — a decision that reportedly went against the wishes of the league — but he curiously didn’t get lambasted by conservative pundits and racist trolls. (Wonder why.)
Was the halftime show good? Sure. The show was a west coast wet dream. Every artist on that stage had a laundry list of undeniable hits, and they made sure to use their respective sets to remind the world of their impact. It also made history, marking the first time that hip-hop had been given a major platform at the Super Bowl. Still, if this musical extravaganza felt a little off to you, it’s because it was part of a very clear ploy to assuage rightful concerns about the NFL’s relationship with Blackness. Even though they tried to distract us with some of our favorite Black people and our favorite Black things (an army of dancers crip-walking across the field? Absolutely!), the fact remains that this sport doesn’t love us back. And I’m not sure how much longer this one-sided relationship with the league can keep going.