Let’s just get right to it. This Rihanna situation feels…uncomfortable.
Words like “odd,” “unexpected,” and “wrong” could also be used to describe how most of us are feeling about her decision to perform during halftime at Super Bowl LVII.
Just a few years ago, Rihanna was one of the staunchest opposers of the NFL in the midst of the league’s still ongoing blackballing of Colin Kaepernick, as she turned down an offer to perform at halftime in solidarity with the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback.
“I couldn’t dare do that. For what? Who gains from that? Not my people. I just couldn’t be a sellout. I couldn’t be an enabler. There’s things within that organization that I do not agree with at all, and I was not about to go and be of service to them in any way,” she told Vogue in 2019.
It was another example of why we’ve always loved how Rihanna doesn’t give a f*ck. But it’s also why so many of us are scratching our heads right now.
Back in 2018, the NFL was in a scramble to find someone to perform at halftime. Trump was in the middle of his war with the NFL as players were kneeling, as Kaepernick had only been out of the league for just a few years at that time. Rihanna said what she said, and Pink turned the NFL down, too. But, finally, the league was able to get Maroon 5 to sign on. However, there was only one problem: The Super Bowl was going to be in Atlanta, and the league had conveniently overlooked getting a Black act — specifically from a musical hotbed like Atlanta to perform. Things got so bad that the league canceled Maroon 5’s Super Bowl press conference because of the backlash.
Eventually, Travis Scott signed on, as well as Big Boi — to represent Atlanta — as the league was able to find some Black people at the last minute. But, the damage was done as it was just another example of fans feeling like the league was still playing it too safe years after the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake fiasco.
But then, the league made a deal with Jay-Z — Rihanna’s homie — to “fix all that” in 2019.
But, back to Rihanna.
A lot has happened since she gave that interview, and not just in this kinda-post-pandemic world we’re all getting back/used to. Rihanna became a billionaire after that interview. She’s engaged now — and a mom.
However, do you know what hasn’t changed since then?
The way that the NFL treats Black people. In fact, it’s gotten even worse. The organization that was doing things that Rihanna didn’t “agree with” is still doing those things at an even more disappointing rate, yet, she’s decided to be of “service to them” for some reason.
The very Super Bowl that Rihanna originally said no to, wound up being one in which NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was under scrutiny as he faced questions from the media during his annual press conference. Outside of inquiries about a missed call that played a huge role in why the Los Angeles Rams were in the Super Bowl and not the New Orleans Saints, many of the questions had to deal with the lack of Black coaches in the league and Kaepernick.
If Rihanna was mad at this league then, she should be enraged now.
Last year, it was revealed that the league had been participating in race norming — a vile and hateful practice that assumed Black players and white players did not have the same intellect, due to a racist belief that Black people have lower cognitive levels than white people — as a tool to save them from properly compensating former Black players that got concussions during their playing days. Since then, the league has ceased using the system and has agreed to pay millions to former Black players.
And earlier this year, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores — along with Steve Wilks and Ray Horton — filed a class-action lawsuit against the league for its racist hiring practices as the league only has three Black head coaches. And just last week — and days before Rihanna’s announcement — the Washington Post released a series on how the NFL blocks Black coaches. It’s an examination of just how much hate and racism have always been in the NFL’s DNA, which has led to the unfair hiring practices we see on the sidelines and in front offices today.
And then there’s what Kaepernick has endured.
Since Rihanna passed on the Super Bowl, Jay-Z said that we had “moved past kneeling,” the NFL threw a sham of a workout for the quarterback which led to Goodell saying “we’ve moved on’’ from Kaepernick, and Raiders owner Mark Davis said that he believes Kap “deserves a chance,” which led to the team eventually bringing him in for a workout. They didn’t sign him. The team is currently winless.
“Rihanna is a generational talent, a woman of humble beginnings who has surpassed expectations at every turn. A person born on the small island of Barbados who became one of the most prominent artists ever. Self-made in business and entertainment,” Jay-Z wrote in a statement about the announcement.
Earlier this month, powered by RocNation, the 2022 NFL Super Bowl Halftime Show — which featured friends of Jay-Z like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar — won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special for the first time in history. And according to TMZ, there are rumors that 50-plus people are in consideration to be guests during Rihanna’s halftime show.
It feels like this is a perfect opportunity for a global artist to step back into the spotlight, with Jay-Z running the halftime show, after not releasing an album since 2016. And while that could be the reason why Rihanna has chosen to do this now, it still doesn’t address the larger question at hand of “what changed?” given that the NFL hasn’t.
I guess we’ll have to wait for her to tell us at the Super Bowl press conference.