By Sydney Black
On February 7th, Super Bowl LV drew in thousands of viewers. Many placed bets on the game or rooted passionately for their respective team. Others may have only watched for the sole purpose of seeing the commercials or eating the wide variety of food being offered. Above all, the Super Bowl offered a rare chance for (socially distanced) unity in a country that has endured a pandemic and immense civil unrest over the course of the last year. Most likely, as you sat down in front of the television screen, you thought, “Great! A nice break from politics.” However, I would argue that the Super Bowl and football in general are rather a call for further political conversation.
This year’s Super Bowl began with poetic icon Amanda Gorman (who last performed at the presidential inauguration) reciting a new piece titled “Chorus of the Captains.” This poem features the story of three individuals who have worked to bring a sense of peace to their communities. Though the poem is not inherently a political statement, it does offer a message encouraging us to promote a more fair and equal society. Gorman proclaimed that we should act “with courage and compassion by doing what is right and just.” It is here as the game begins that one must ask oneself: “Shouldn’t this call for justice in society be applied to sports as well?”
Racial and social justice tensions within football revolve around some of the more exclusionary practices employed by the NFL. During a halftime interview, President Biden offered a critical viewpoint on the lack of diversity among head coaches in the league. He noted, “You’ve got to go out and look — there’s innumerous incredibly qualified African American coaches out there.” Just one of many examples of this injustice is Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy. Despite his credentials as one of the game’s greatest offensive minds, Bienemy still has yet to be offered a head coaching gig.
While it is relatively easy to make a call for change, the challenge lies in actually acting on that call. Many players have suffered from this inability to take action. During the Super Bowl, the NFL aired a commercial on their “Inspire Change” initiative. On the outside, the initiative has good intentions: making financial commitments and taking the necessary steps to promote greater diversity in the league. However, as of yet, the NFL has not appeared to make any sincere attempt towards achieving this goal. Perhaps the greatest example of this is former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. By kneeling during the National Anthem as a form of protest against systemic racism and police brutality, Kaepernick was sidelined and practically black-balled from the league. When larger corporations such as the NFL attempt to silence their employees, people are left with vitriolic tastes in their mouths. In this particular case, millions took to social media to defend Kaepernick and his actions.
Like it or not, football has become a platform for political discussion and will likely continue to be one for the foreseeable future. Debates will continue to rage on over “unfair” hiring practices and whether or not players should be permitted to use their voice to advocate for change. However, rather than dividing us, perhaps these discussions will allow us to learn about and acknowledge other viewpoints on these important issues.