Soul singer Gladys Knight, who will be singing the national anthem at this year’s Super Bowl in Atlanta, seemed to criticize Colin Kaepernick in a statement published by Variety today.
Kaepernick is the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback whose refusal to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” — and kneel instead — to protest police brutality has made him a divisive figure nationwide, earning him praise from civil rights groups, but scorn from many conservatives, including President Donald Trump.
“I understand that Mr. Kaepernick is protesting two things, and they are police violence and injustice,” Knight wrote to Variety. “It is unfortunate that our national anthem has been dragged into this debate when the distinctive senses of the national anthem and fighting for justice should each stand alone.”
The statement continued: “I am here today and on Sunday, Feb. 3, to give the anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words, the way it unites us when we hear it and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life.”
This is the latest twist at the intersection of politics, sports and music that has surrounded this year’s Super Bowl. Kaepernick is still in the middle of an ongoing arbitration case regarding a grievance he filed against the NFL. He has accused the league’s owners of colluding to keep him out of the league after not being signed last season.
His protests during the anthems became a cultural flash point, even though he wasn’t in the league. Other NFL players began kneeling to support Kaepernick, as did celebrities off the field. Last fall, Nike made Kaepernick the face of a prominent advertising campaign.
This year’s Super Bowl became particularly fraught because of the halftime show. Some high-profile artists, including rapper Cardi B, said they would not be willing to perform, in a show of solidarity with Kaepernick. Last year, Jay-Z rapped in one of his songs: “I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me, I don’t need you.”
Earlier this week, the NFL announced the halftime acts would be Maroon 5 and rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi. Scott’s decision to participate, in particular, received backlash, including from prominent African-Americans like Al Sharpton. Variety reported that Kaepernick and Scott spoke before the announcement and described the conversation as “cordial and respectful.” But on Wednesday, several posts critical of Scott appeared on Kaepernick’s Twitter account.
Perhaps anticipating the criticism, Scott announced Sunday, in conjunction with the halftime billing, that he and the league were teaming up on a $500,000 donation to Dream Corps, a social justice group.
Representatives for Kaepernick and Knight did not respond to a request for comment.