Among the fun beer and food commercials, this year a more serious tone was introduced to the commercials of the 2020 Super Bowl when the NFL ran two public service announcements on police shootings.
The first ad tells the story of Botham Jean, a black man who was killed after Dallas police officer Amber Guyger entered his apartment.
The second ad features Anquan Boldin, a retired NFL player. Boldin started the Players Coalition which exists to end social injustices and racial inequality within sports. In the commercial, he discusses the killing of his cousin, Corey Jones, by Palm Beach County police officer Nouman Raja as Jones waited for a tow truck by the side of the road.
The PSAs were created as part of the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative. The initiative is a campaign dedicated to “education and economic empowerment, police and community relations, and criminal justice reform.”
While both PSAs were emotionally compelling in their attempts to address the police shootings of black men, they were not the great progressive leap forward the NFL needs. The PSAs fell short. Simply put, the NFL has found itself in a magnified political quandary over players’ rights to protest political issues on the field.
The NFL is promoting a politically charged commercial against police brutality and killings of black men. This is the exact issue Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, kneeled for and why he was seemingly blackballed from the NFL.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said during a 2016 interview with NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
It is tempting to believe that, perhaps, with the help of Jay-Z and the Players Coalition, the NFL is gaining a progressive appetite for social justice and the violated rights of black people.
However, they left out crucial information of the stories they depict. The NFL has attempted to take control of the narrative, sans Kaepernick, and has watered down the message in the process.
Both ads fail to mention the names of the police officers responsible in the deaths of Jean and Jones. The word “police” isn’t even used in the PSA featuring Jean’s death. Both ads end with the implied idea that something needs to change. But, they don’t place any firm responsibility in the hands of the system that allowed for these murders to occur in the first place.
These failures could easily be missed by those less knowledgeable of the issues or too drunk during the Super Bowl to notice. For those whose stories are similar, who can relate and who are fighting to make a difference – the failures were obvious.
To promote the message of the NFL’s Inspire Change campaign alongside the PSAs, the NFL uses #Everyone’sChild as well as the tagline, “We are in this together.” The hashtag sounds vaguely familiar to #AllLivesMatter – creating a false idea of equality and the failure to address that systematically one race is being killed at higher rates than another.
According to Mapping Police Violence, a crowd sourced database that tracks all officer-involved killings, as well as people who are killed by off-duty police officers, 1,009 people were killed by police in 2019 and 1,143 in 2018.
The PSAs do not mention any of the statistics and again Kaepernick was not acknowledged in the ads - despite that his message rings eerily similar to the one the NFL attempts to portray.
Progress takes time and comes with mistakes. So, maybe the NFL will heed the criticism of its viewers and realize the PSAs didn’t quite hit the mark.
The incredible effort and strength it took for many of the hardworking people such as Anquan Boldin and the families of Corey Jones and Botham Jean to speak out for these commercials should not go overlooked. However, the messengers of their stories should take heed that they ultimately missed the mark in grabbing audiences and portraying the image they so desperately seek.