Super Bowl media week is supposed to be about who said what, but this year it has also been about who’s too afraid to say anything at all.
Maroon 5, this year’s halftime act, quietly bowed out of the traditional news conference most of its predecessors had held since the last time the Rams were handed the Lombardi Trophy in 2000. I’m not going to act dumb and pretend as if I don’t understand why lead singer Adam Levine would not want to stand in front of a room of reporters.
A scenario in which he tries to explain why he’s agreed to perform for an organization led by white men that essentially kicked out quarterback Colin Kaepernick for protesting police brutality in the black community is a no-win situation. The slightest misstep and he lands in meme-ville.
Still, I was looking forward to hearing his comments because I hate when the bully wins. And be not mistaken, the artists participating Sunday are being bullied.
I don’t care that more than 100,000 people reportedly signed an online petition asking the band to drop out. It’s fairly easy to sign an online petition. I am here for Rihanna turning down the opportunity and for Amy Schumer taking to Instagram to encourage Maroon 5 to do the same.
“I wonder why more white players aren’t kneeling,” she posted last fall. “Once you witness the truly deep inequality and endless racism people of color face in our country, not to mention the police brutality and murders. Why not kneel next to your brothers? Otherwise how are you not complicit?”
She makes a compelling argument — buoyed by her unwillingness to participate in any Super Bowl ads — but to paraphrase from “Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi : There is more than one path to the top of the mountain.
For example, one of the more remarkable aspects of the iconic moment in which John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their clenched fists during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics was that in the months leading to the competition there was significant discussion among civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., regarding black athletes boycotting the event altogether.
Clearly that would have sent a powerful message around the globe. And clearly the athletes deciding to participate created an opportunity to do the same.
I’m not suggesting a popular (though nonetheless fairly vanilla) band like Maroon 5 has the gravitas of any of the names mentioned in that example. But more than 100 million people typically watch the halftime show. Perhaps instead of joining the chorus in the echo chamber it may behoove us all to take a moment to see what the group does with the platform before roundly denouncing them for accepting it.
Until then, the only thing Maroon 5 has to answer for is recording a song about using a phone booth.
The social media avalanche was started by a single snowball with no owner. Who decided it was OK for the players to participate in the game of their dreams but Maroon 5 shouldn’t sing at the concert of theirs?
Who decided it was OK to acknowledge there would be dance-style male cheerleaders at the Super Bowl for the first time in history — both black by the way — but Atlanta’s own Gladys Knight shouldn’t sing the national anthem?
And speaking of local talent, who said it was OK to criticize the NFL for choosing Maroon 5 instead of a local act, but then criticize local acts like Knight and Big Boi for participating? Jermaine Dupri, who is also from Atlanta, said he was called a “sellout” during his Super Bowl concert series in which he was using his platform to discuss police brutality.
No wonder Levine didn’t want to walk into that room.
I understand what’s at stake. As someone who has written about the murder of Michael Brown, the murder of Eric Garner, the murder of Laquan McDonald, the murder of John Crawford III, the murder of Sandra Bland, the murder of Victor White III … I understand exactly what’s at stake.
I have a beautiful 6-foot-2, dark-skinned, 22-year-old son and my heart is troubled by what’s at stake. But I’m also a Rams fan and am genuinely happy for the young men on the team I have gotten to know. Does this now mean I am somehow less concerned about the stakes?
There are a myriad of ways to address the issues of police brutality and criminal justice reform, and some players have used the leverage inspired by Kaepernick’s bravery to get involved in grass roots projects, education, even campaigning for prosecutors who understand the difference between an honorable profession and an honorable person.
Opting to shame Maroon 5 is certainly attention-grabbing. But excuse me as I first wait to see what Levine and company choose to do with the attention that they’ll undoubtedly have.