Even though Colin Kaepernick hasn't played in the NFL for years, his presence was felt throughout Super Bowl LIV as his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, took on the Kansas City Chiefs.
Ahead of Sunday's big game, Fox aired a three-minute "tribute to America" set to Johnny Cash's "Ragged Old Flag" to "remind us we’ve been through tough times before, but as a nation, we’ve always come through it together." The video featured Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter and families of 9/11 victims as various images of the American flag flashed throughout the montage.
In 2017, Kaepernick was released by the Niners after a season of his silent sideline protests. During the national anthem, the quarterback would kneel in an attempt to bring awareness to police brutality and social injustices against people of color. Some found the "tribute to America" to be a "slap in the face" to Kaepernick — one they seem to feel he deserved.
#raggedoldflag #SuperBowl— Mitchell (@Mitchell_tweets) February 2, 2020
Fox nailed that ragged old flag opening.
I loved how it pushed back hard on the anti-American narrative pushed by the likes of #Kaepernick and liberal Dems like @AOC and @IlhanMN
NFL just ran Colin Kaepernick with a bus! Ragged Old Flag!!— Barry Fahey (@Fahey9Fahey) February 2, 2020
Fox sports just slammed Kaepernick and his leftists with that BRILLIANTLY DONE JOHNNY CASH SALUTE TO OUR RAGGED OLD FLAG. WELL DONE. it needs to be shown in every school! Every semester.— Democrats Hate America (@PatrickScully67) February 2, 2020
I sincerely hope that Colin Kaepernick was just watching FOX's presentation of Johnny Cash's "Ragged Old Flag". pic.twitter.com/hkqiPf97th— Darryl Bjork 🇺🇸 (@BjorkDarryl) February 2, 2020
But others trashed Fox and the NFL for the perceived dig.
"I love Johnny Cash & "Ragged Old Flag" & that was a beautiful commercial that just aired on Fox ... but because of the double meaning behind it - it was basically a f*** you to Colin Kaepernick it’s also one of the most inappropriate things I’ve seen broadcast on this stage #NFL," one person wrote.
You can’t tell me the choice of Johnny Cash doing Ragged Old Flag wasn’t about Kaepernick https://t.co/qFOKN5D1rt— Jack McLoone (@jfmclooney) February 2, 2020
The "Ragged Old Flag" video should've included Kaepernick as part of its American story. The flag stands for the freedom to take a stand–and a knee. Missed opportunity. 🇺🇸 #adbowl #brandbowl #3PercentSB #AAFchalktalk #SuperBowl #SuperBowlAdsee— Kerry Antezana (@iKerry) February 2, 2020
Still, some people were simply upset that "Ragged Old Flag" was the backdrop. Cash released the spoken word tribute in 1974 after President Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal. According to Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash biography, he wrote the song to "reaffirm faith in the country and the goodness of the American people." While Cash risked his career to speak out for causes he believed in, it led to an online debate over whether he’d want his music to be used in the tribute.
@rosannecash how do you feel about the NFL and Fox using your father’s Ragged Old Flag as a thinly veiled attack on Colin Kaepernick before the Super Bowl?— Julian Spivey (@julianspivey44) February 3, 2020
Resenting Johnny Cash being used for this "Don't Kneel During the Anthem" PSA #SuperBowl— Peter Ramsey (@pramsey342) February 2, 2020
"And Johnny Cash was a champion for JUSTICE. Terrible choice — he'd NEVER endorse this bs," one person claimed. Someone replied, "Did you know him? No you didn't!"
Yahoo Entertainment reached out to a representative for the Cash estate but did not immediately receive a response. However, the tribute was shared from Cash’s official Twitter account — which is managed by the estate — so it’s safe to assume the family approves. Especially since a nearly identical tribute set to Cash's tune aired before the Super Bowl in 2017. A source close to the family tells Yahoo Entertainment the estate participated again this year given the positive response of unity three years ago.
In 2017, Cash’s son called his father "non-political" while condemning a white supremacist group that used a Johnny Cash song on its website.
"The Johnny Cash Trust does all it can to stop the usage of Johnny Cash’s image, music or likeness in conjuncture with any group or organization that believes in separatism and superiority — or political candidates or parties for that matter," country singer-songwriter John Carter told Rolling Stone.
"So many use dad’s name, saying ‘Johnny Cash would not like this’ or ‘Johnny Cash would do this’ or ‘Johnny Cash would vote for…’ Please, let his actions speak for who he was: A simple, loving man who never supported hate or bigotry. He was non-political, and a patriot with no public political party affiliation," Carter added.
While people are also debating whether or not the "tribute to America" even has anything to do with Kaepernick at all, it’s clear the NFL is still trying to distance itself from backlash over players’ kneeling protests. PETA, the animal rights organization, claimed the NFL wouldn’t allow its animated Super Bowl commercial that featured animals taking a knee with a message of "End Speciesism."
"The National Football League apparently found our new Colin Kaepernick-inspired ad — with its message of inclusion and respect — too daring and pressured FOX to snub our commercial," PETA posted on its website.
This morning PETA, uh, dropped a Colin Kaepernick-inspired ad they wanted to air at the Super Bowl that they say the NFL blocked pic.twitter.com/WuIeSEEXiV— Tyler R. Tynes (@TylerRickyTynes) January 31, 2020
As for Kaepernick, he retweeted the below post:
Every attempt by the @NFL to rehabilitate its image among Black viewers will ring hollow as long as Kaepernick is still unsigned to an NFL team. You cannot co-opt his message and blackball him at the same time. #SuperBowl https://t.co/wkiNvnlt9T— Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson) February 2, 2020
Stars like Padma Lakshmi and Ava DuVernay made sure he wasn’t forgotten on Sunday.
Today during the Super Bowl, the National Football League and its allies will sanitize and co-opt a black protest movement. I refuse to watch that happen before my eyes as if it’s all good. Some things are worth more than an afternoon of football. https://t.co/jl5N8VfoyA— Ava DuVernay (@ava) February 2, 2020
“They’re trying to erase him,” said New York Giants safety Michael Thomas, a vice president with the NFL Players Association. “Even if you’re not going to talk about the controversy, at least talk about what he did on the field—which was electrifying.” https://t.co/Cs0Ch9lHGK— Ava DuVernay (@ava) February 2, 2020
Beyoncé and Jay-Z — who faced backlash after his company Roc Nation announced its partnership with the NFL — appeared to make a statement of their own while attending the Super Bowl. Neither star stood during Demi Lovato’s rendition of the national anthem.
Watch: Demi Lovato slays Super Bowl national anthem:
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