Cowboys Cardinals Football
Dallas Cowboys players coaches and owner protesting on September 24

After building for over a year, the National Football League in America is being swept up in a wave of peaceful protests, as players, coaches, and in some cases, owners, are finding ways to silently protest what they believe to be an insensitivity to the issues of race, sparked by comments made in September by the President of the United States.

Referring to an athlete who gets on one knee during the playing of the American national anthem, the President said that such an athlete “disrespects our flag,” and is a “a son of a bitch” who should be fired.

When asked on September 25 at a press conference if the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) would support similar protests in at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, USOC CEO, Scott Blackmun, answered in a way that symbolizes the challenge of protesting at the Olympics.

I think the athletes that you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t. We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves. The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you’re taking, no matter where you’re from. … But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.

Scott Blackmun

Blackmun’s words are sympathetic regarding an athlete’s right to express views that are deeply personal and important to them. But he does say that the Olympics prohibits “all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise.” In other words, we respect your right to protest peacefully. But you need to respect the IOC or a National Olympic committee’s right to kick you out if you do so.

In 1968, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who famously stood with gloved hands raised in fists on the medal podium after their gold and bronze medal victories in the 200 meter finals, were consequently forced to leave the Olympic venue.

In 1972, Americans Vincent Matthews and Wayne Collett, protested in their own way by standing nonchalantly on the medal stand while the American anthem was playing. Their perceived disrespect resulted in their suspension from further participation at the Munich Olympics, and subsequently in the US team failing to field a 4×400 relay team, an event they were favored in.

Collett explained in 1992 his actions in 1972 in a way that likely reflects the feelings of many athletes who are linking arms, removing themselves from the field or kneeling during the playing of the American national anthem:

I love America. I just don’t think it’s lived up to its promise. I’m not anti-American at all. To suggest otherwise is to not understand the struggles of blacks in America at the time.

Indianapolis Colts protesting
Indianapolis Colts protesting on September 24

Super Bowl XLI was memorable for its football. It was the first time ever two African American coaches faced off against one another. The game started with a touchdown on its first play, a kick-off return TD. Peyton Manning was named MVP. And the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears 29-17.

But today, what many will recall lovingly from that Super Bowl on February 4, 2007, was the electrifying performance by the artist, Prince. As New York Times writer, Kelefa Sanneh, wrote of the 12-minute performance, “His performance last night at Super Bowl XLI will surely go down as one of the most thrilling halftime shows ever; certainly the most unpredictable, and perhaps the best.”

Watch this short documentary produced by the NFL on Prince’s performance and the concerns leading up to it. There had never been a Super Bowl in the rain. Rain is fine for the football players, but it was a worry for the producers of the half-time show. As one said, “We were told ‘It’s never rained in a super bowl in 40 years. Don’t worry about it.’ We were in a booth at the top of the stadium. The rain is pouring into the booth. It was so windy and rainy we couldn’t even see.”Prince performing in the rain at Super Bowl XLI

 

Another person on the production team said this. “I was must panicked. Prince was using four separate live electric guitars. The stage was made of a very slick tile, which when it got wet, was even more slippery. He had two beautiful dancers with him – The Twinz. They were wearing, I think eight-inch heels. And I was thinking, ‘what’s going to happen now?”

But apparently, the unexpected rain storm did not faze Prince. As the production designer of the half-time show recalled in a conversation that was had with Prince before the show, “‘I want you to know it’s raining.’ And Prince said, ‘Yes, it’s raining.’ ‘And are you OK?’ And Prince is like, ‘Can you make it rain harder?’ And I was like, ‘right on!'”

Sanneh thought that “the heavy rain made the smoke and lights seem mysterious, instead of merely ridiculous.” Alan Light, who wrote a biography of Prince called “Let’s Go Crazy” said in the documentary, “It felt spontaneous. He turned the weather to his dramatic advantage. It was almost like a special effect. He could totally lean in to that, and make it seem like, ‘Sure it’s raining. I would have wanted it to rain.’ Like, ‘I ordered that.'”

John Pareles, the Senior Music Critic of the NY Times, marveled at Prince’s song choice and performance in the documentary. “Prince’s set is so wild. He does other people’s songs. He’s not promoting himself. He’s just making music. It’s profound. It’s loud. It’s funky. It’s one performer, shaking the entire world.”

Prince’s final song of the set was his anthem, Purple Rain, one of my favorite songs. As one of the producers of the half-time show said in the NFL documentary, “When he did do Purple Rain, things worked magically, and there’s nothing you can say except ‘thank you’.”

Prince performing in the rain at Super Bowl XLI_2