Auntie Gladys, not like this.
Many of us have spent a year or more protesting the NFL in support of Colin Kaepernick and other players’ right to kneel during the national anthem (or simply opt out, altogether). So, understandably, it is low-key heartbreaking to hear through the grapevine (also known as Variety) that national treasure Gladys Knight has decided to depart the struggle on the midnight train to (Atlanta) Georgia to sing the National Anthem for Super Bowl LIII.
“I am proud to use my voice to unite and represent our country in my hometown of Atlanta,” Knight said on Thursday. “The NFL recently announced their new social justice platform Inspire Change, and I am honored to be a part of its inaugural year.”
Motown wept. And personally, I’ve really got to use my imagination to keep on keepin’ on.
Predictably, Knight faced significant backlash on social media from those disappointed that a black icon would lend her legacy and legendary voice to a league that has been repeatedly and unapologetically dismissive of black issues, despite employing 70 percent black players. Many felt maybe this was just a matter of tweeting some sense into one of our civil rights-era faves.
You know, because that’s what friends are for.
But still, she persisted. In response to the outcry, Knight released a statement to Variety on Thursday night, outlining her stance on singing what become one of the most contentious songs in our nation’s history. (Seriously, at this point, it’s right up there with “No Diggity,” in terms of race relations in America.)
“I understand that Mr. Kaepernick is protesting two things, and they are police violence and injustice,” she wrote. “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.”
“Our” national anthem? You mean the one that said former slaves’ “blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution?”
But it’s rude to interrupt your elders. Go on, Gladys.
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, from walking back hallways, from marching with our social leaders, from using my voice for good — I have been in the forefront of this battle longer than most of those voicing their opinions to win the right to sing our country’s anthem on a stage as large as the Super Bowl LIII.
No matter who chooses to deflect with this narrative and continue to mix these two in the same message, it is not so and cannot be made so by anyone speaking it. I pray that this national anthem will bring us all together in a way never before witnessed and we can move forward and untangle these truths which mean so much to all of us.
Because I truly do love Gladys Knight as if she were one of my own aunties, I’m not prone to canceling her for this deeply controversial choice. (Besides, neither one of us wants to be the first to say “goodbye.”) And I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit to knowing several people in her age group who witnessed or participated in the civil rights movement but still question the effectiveness of this ongoing protest. We’ve agreed to disagree.
That said, not one of them would defend singing that song.