The February 2019 Super Bowl Halftime Show could have been very different and one for the record books. According to new reports, scheduled headline performers Maroon 5 were not the NFL’s first choice. Instead, rumor has it they were looking at the Bad Gal herself, Rihanna.
Us Weekly reported Thursday that, according to an unnamed source “close” to the star, the Bajan singer (born Robyn Fenty) turned down her chance to sing at sport’s most watched annual televised event for one simple reason: She supports former player Colin Kaepernick and doing the show would go against her support of the former NFL player. On Friday, Rolling Stone reported to the same effect. Regardless of the nuances of the NFL’s alleged offer, or Rihanna’s position, the fact that this story is continuing a full two years after Kaepernick initiated his game-time protest of anti-Black brutality in America shows that the NFL can’t expect to continue brushing the matter under its astroturf rug.
The stance of the league is that while they don’t want to limit their player’s right to peaceful protest, kneeling during the national anthem will result in a hefty fine for players. Those who wish to perform any type of protest may stay off the field during the ceremonial singing of the national anthem without punishment, however.
Although Fenty hasn’t commented yet, she isn’t the first Black artist to reportedly turn down work with the NFL in the last few years. Before the NFL announced the 2018 performer would be Justin Timberlake, reports surfaced that Jay-Z turned down the opportunity to perform — something the 4:44 rapper seemingly confirmed on this summer’s The Carters rapping, “I said no to the Super Bowl/You need me; I don’t need you/Every night we in the end zone; tell the NFL we in stadiums, too,” on the song “Apesh*t.”
Rihanna is a multi-hyphenate megastar, so her reported refusal to participate in the Super Bowl, if true, shows that her determination to support free speech, a right to protest, and Kaepernick specifically (who has been essentially blacklisted from the NFL since 2017) outweigh the potential long-term career benefits she may receive in performing during the Halftime Show. That’s a big deal.
And although she could have used the show as an opportunity to spread a message not unlike Beyoncé’s Black Panthers-inspired “Formation” set, or Lady Gaga’s political message in 2017, turning down the event is a choice that shows us that sometimes, a refusal to participate can be even more politically resonant than using the platform to share a political message.
And that possible decision of the Fenty Beauty boss’s is one that we can all take to heart: Making decisions based on what’s right over what’s best, in any capacity, and in a way that works for us as individuals can have a striking impact on those around us. If she truly has simply said ‘no’ to the NFL, Rihanna has shown that we have the power to make change by bucking the status quo and simply working to follow our personal beliefs.
(Photo by Caroline McCredie/Getty Images for Fenty Beauty by Rihanna)