Protest Is Coming to Super Bowl LIII

In Tim Duff’s lacerating excavation of the Super Bowl on Common Dreams, he describes the big game as “the impoverishment, enslavement and negation of real life.” Damn. Whether one ascribes to that view or not—and people should read Duff’s piece—the Super Bowl is not just a soul-sucking toboggan ride to hell brought to you by Cialis. It’s also now undeniably a site of annual protest.

In recent years, we have seen “Occupy the Super Bowl” labor demonstrations in Indianapolis, and last year’s little-covered march on the stadium in the sub-freezing winter air of Minnesota. This year the game (or prom for the 1 percent) is in Atlanta, and the National Football League and their corporate sponsors will have to face the thrum of protest surrounding their branded activities.

The primary demonstration this weekend will use the spotlight of the Super Bowl to put the eyes of the nation on racial inequities in Georgia. Many will be calling for a boycott of the NFL, which has brazenly colluded against quarterback and anti-police-brutality campaigner Colin Kaepernick. The Atlanta NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice will be out in force, alongside a group called the Alliance for Black Lives, billed as an organization that “fights the three evils of society: racism, poverty, and militarism.” They are gathering on Saturday, rallying at Oak Hill in Piedmont Park at noon.

At a press conference to raise awareness for the event, Richard Rose, the head of the Atlanta NAACP, said that income inequality and the recent voter suppression in the Georgia gubernatorial race will be highlighted as well as “Georgia’s allegiance to the Confederate States of America instead of the United States of America.”

Rose is also raising the issue of Stone Mountain Georgia, where there is a massive carving of the faces of confederate leaders: a veritable Mt. Rushmore of racism. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Rose is speaking out to the international cavalcade of journalists in town for the big game, saying that he is “astounded that Georgia would have something like Stone Mountain.… The whole purpose of these monuments is to reinforce and normalize white supremacy. That’s why so many are erected in front of courthouses.”

Since this is Trump’s America, there won’t only be people fighting for racial justice on the day before the Super Bowl. There is also a fascist gathering, a “pro-white rally” at the aforementioned Stone Mountain. The organizations involved were denied an actual permit to hold their demonstration, but their leader, whose name I won’t mention, said, “To hell with their permit. The Constitution is our permit.” When this group has attempted to organize in the past in Georgia, they have been swamped and humiliated by counter-demonstrators. We will see what happens this Saturday.

But the voices of dissent will not only be heard outside the stadium. The league will also feel the “Kaepernick effect” inside the their velvet rope. Atlanta recording legend Jermaine Dupri is producing a series of concerts, staged for free in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, but is changing the usual Super Bowl themes of brand elevation, corporate excess, and Pentagon-approved patriotism.

Dupri had earned the ire of black families in Atlanta who had lost loved ones to police violence. Dupri was seen by them as crossing an artistic picket line around the NFL. Led by performers like Rihanna and Cardi B, many had refused the publicity of performing at NFL events over the league’s treatment of Kaepernick. In a meeting with these family members, they called Dupri “a sellout.” After this confrontation, which clearly shook Dupri, he decided to give the mothers of those killed by police space to speak at his five-night concert series, leading up to the game.

“I met with the families and parents who have been killed and murdered by police officers here,” he said. “I plan on having them come to my Super Bowl Live event and speak to the crowd and tell their story about police brutality in the city and let people understand that I’m supporting them as much as possible.”

This could—and probably should—be seen as Dupri trying to have his cake and eat it too, to benefit from the Super Bowl while also avoiding any backlash he could incur. Either way, it will bring voices to an audience that desperately needs to hear them.

Politics are going to be inside and outside the gated community that is the Super Bowl. This reflects the reality of our time, when political ferment is inescapable and where people are getting off the couch and into the streets, determined not to amuse themselves to death.

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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