Chips. Dip. Beer. Commercials. Meats. Rivalries. Covert racism. Gambling.
These are the makings of a traditional Super Bowl and have been since 1967 when the Green Bay Packers won the first Super Bowl with a young Aaron Rogers as the backup quarterback. Yet for Super Bowl LV, the powers that be are looking to disrupt this annual trashy event with a little class by inviting National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman to recite a poem during the pregame ceremonies. The poem is dedicated to three “heroes” who will be honored before the game: an educator, a nurse, and a veteran. My immediate reaction, which crawled up from the depths of my core and released into the world like a flame, is a hearty NO.
The NFL does not deserve Amanda Gorman and particularly they do not deserve her in the league’s wishy-washy post-Colin Kaepernick era, when football leadership pretends to support Black Lives Matter, but isn’t super into stopping systemic racism by, say, acknowledging its existence.
When you sell a portion of your soul to Satan in exchange for being able to train your tiny woman brain on sports, part of the contract entails that all of your morals temporarily fly out the window during sporting events. (This is how I am able to watch football and still call myself a mujerista.) Thusly, when the NFL tries to be something that it is not—an industry that cares about social justice or Black people outside of how much money they can make off of the harm endured by Black bodies—it triggers an immense internal struggle.
Now, my general distrust of this stunt has no roots in the keep-politics-out-of-sports ethos that is uttered every time an athlete protests during a game. Sports have been political for thousands of years, going back to the Greek city-states who sent athletes to represent their region for glory and bragging rights. However, infusing a semi-politically charged act in the Super Bowl as a way to placate liberal-leaning fans during a game where some will be (wrongly) cheering for Tom MAGA Brady, is not a form of politics, it’s performance.
Asking a young, Black, socially conscious poet to perform before the Super Bowl, in part to honor a nurse, is laughable. Despite the pandemic, roughly 22,000 fans will be in attendance at the stadium on game day. The mere fact that this event is taking place in front of a live audience spits in the face of Amanda Gorman’s pre-game performance and her presence puts a pretty filter over the NFL’s track record of upholding systemic racism. Amanda Gorman called out the legacy of enslavement at a historic inauguration and now you want her to cast out her pearls of wisdom in between Doritos commercials?
The Super Bowl is an imperfect beast of an event and anyone with a functioning conscience who still watches it has accepted that imperfection, knowing that until NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell is either retired or dead, there will be no real change. But this particular charade is too much to stomach. If the NFL genuinely wants to become a better institution, a poet is not the first. The entire league needs to be restructured before they can deign to invite someone like Amanda Gorman to speak on their behalf.