No star-studded performance at the Super Bowl will provide enough of a smokescreen for the NFL
Jennifer Lopez and Shakira will put on a good halftime show, but the big issue is still Kaepernick
Until the NFL acknowledges the exile of Colin Kaepernick, every decision labeled with the tag of “entertainment” feels like a smokescreen.
On Thursday, the league announced that Jennifer Lopez and Shakira will be the headliners for the halftime show at Super Bowl LIV in Miami, the first halftime show to be done in collaboration with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.
These two musicians are likely to put on a better show than Maroon 5 did in Atlanta earlier this year, a performance that was panned by critics as boring. But at this stage in their careers, both Lopez and Shakira are legacy acts. Despite Lopez’s It’s My Party Tour, which ended this summer, she hasn’t released an album in more than five years. It’s been 2½ years for Shakira, whose last album, El Dorado, won a Grammy in 2018. Both singers are safe choices, talented live performers with catalogs of hits that can deliver a quality show to a Super Bowl stadium. They fit the world’s understanding of the Miami aesthetic: sleek, inviting, sophisticated, upscale, sexy.
Throughout the decade, the NFL’s Hispanic/Latino fan base has also grown. From 2010 to 2015, NFL Hispanic TV ad spending saw a 65% increase, and the league’s Hispanic viewership grew by 28% from 2011 to 2016. With those figures in mind, Latina stars Shakira and Lopez seem like obvious choices.
Still, as in Atlanta, the lack of local artists headlining the show is glaring. Miami’s musical ecosystem is awash in Latin music and hip-hop. Gloria Estefan, Rick Ross, DJ Khaled, Enrique Iglesias, City Girls, Pitbull, Trina, Trick Daddy and — the inventors of the parental advisory sticker — 2 Live Crew have all done their part taking Miami beyond its city limits. The Latin Recording Academy is based in Miami and has presented the Latin Grammys since 2000. Likewise, major and independent record labels have bases in Miami. And the sixth annual iHeartRadio Fiesta Latina festival is set to take place in November with rapper Daddy Yankee, singer Ozuna and the aforementioned Lopez.
Imagine a halftime show in which NFL commissioner Roger Goodell signs off on a live medley of Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine’s “Anything For You,” Trick Daddy and Trina’s “Nann” directly into Rick Ross’ “BIG TYME” and Uncle Luke leading a choir performance of the Miami classic “Doo Doo Brown.” It’s not something we can expect from the NFL, but it is something I could envision coming from Roc Nation.
The decision to go with a safe lineup in Miami isn’t J. Lo’s or Shakira’s fault. Nor is it completely Roc Nation and Jay-Z’s problem. This is the NFL’s cross to bear, no matter how much the league attempts to divert attention elsewhere.
Because still buried beyond the headlines is the NFL’s refusal to say Colin Kaepernick’s name, even as one of the major storylines of the season so far is the number of quarterbacks who have fallen to injury. Just in the first three weeks, that list includes Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Nick Foles, Cam Newton and Sam Darnold.
Kaepernick, who has been sidelined since his final season with the San Francisco 49ers in 2016, is reportedly still interested in continuing his career. Kaepernick’s inability to get a call from an NFL team is still puzzling from a performance standpoint. In a poll released earlier this year by The Athletic, 95% of defensive players believed Kaepernick should be on an NFL roster. Of the 85 players polled, only two said no.
He never protested the American flag, American military troops or the NFL. Kaepernick’s protest was over systemic injustice toward black communities. He and Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid’s collusion case against the league was settled, never providing a legal answer as to whether the NFL conspired to keep him out.
A partnership with a legendary rapper, an announcement of global pop stars at the next Super Bowl halftime and a commitment of close to $90 million for social justice efforts so far have not erased the ban on Kaepernick. And that’s nobody’s fault but the NFL’s.