by Julian Spivey
Sunday’s Super Bowl was a pretty fantastic night of entertainment all-around. The game was close and entertaining up until the final minutes seeing the Kansas City Chiefs win the organization’s first Super Bowl in 50 years, the halftime performance from Jennifer Lopez and Shakira was widely celebrated and the commercials elicited both laughs and tears.
But there was a moment during the big game’s pre-show on Fox just before the league celebrated it’s All-100 roster of legendary players and coaches and Yolanda Adams and Demi Lovato stunned the Miami crowd with stellar performances of “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” that was completely inappropriate on the part of the league and its broadcaster for the evening Fox. It was a moment that was touching and beautiful in its production, but the underlying message of it was disgusting.
I’m speaking of the “Ragged Old Flag” segment that featured a celebration of America’s flag and military (but mostly the flag) set to Johnny Cash’s 1974 spoken word track “Ragged Old Flag.” The ad, which was essentially propaganda, showed Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter raising an American flag set to images of American heroism in previous wars and images of the flag flying over the destruction at Ground Zero after 9/11. It was the kind of stuff meant to make patriotic Americans swell with pride – and it did the trick for many of Americans.
But what this segment truly was is a thinly veiled attack on former NFL superstar quarterback Colin Kaepernick who took a stand against police brutality by kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL games and has since been blackballed by the league for doing such.
The ad, despite its beauty and my love as a hardcore fan of Johnny Cash, left me feeling dirty for having seen it. It didn’t make me proud of America. It didn’t make me want to waive the red, white and blue. It truly made me want to turn off the television – but alas it’s the biggest sporting event of the year and I’m not as courageous as someone like Kaepernick.
It’s OK to celebrate America. It’s not OK to use potentially the biggest symbol of America to essentially slap a person in the face for standing up for his First Amendment right of free speech in hopes of doing some good for the world. It’s not OK to use potentially the biggest symbol of America in an attempt to entice some folks offended by Kaepernick to come back to the game by saying, “look we love the flag. And, Kaepernick, well we took care of him.”
The NFL has done many things over the last decade to make me feel dirty for being a fan of the league – many of those involving player protests - and this was yet another. The video basically had the same affect as if they had just chosen to show that image of Donald Trump hugging the American flag, except maybe not as sleazy and maybe slightly more subtle.
As a Johnny Cash fan since my early teens and someone who considers Cash to be one of my all-time heroes I’m often protective of his legacy – I once fired off a heated email response to my own grandmother during the Obama administration for using Cash’s name in a joke email about how we used to have Bob Hope, Johnny Cash and Steve Jobs and now we didn’t have any hope, cash or jobs. Don’t put statements or words into a legend’s mouth when they aren’t here to give their say in how they feel about something.
I know someone – I assume the Cash family – must’ve OK’d their father’s track in this ad, but I can’t help but think that Cash, being the man of the people and downtrodden that he was, might not have appreciated the use of his words as a means to attack a black man for using his First Amendment rights to stand up for folks being treated less because of who they are.
If this segment had aired in 2010, instead of 2020, I wouldn’t have thought too much about it … but now it just seems like the NFL shoving a middle finger at Kaepernick and telling those fans offended by player protests during the National Anthem that those days are over.