Letter to the Editor: Does Grambling-Southern NFL Halftime Show Diminish HBCU Support for Colin Kaepernick?

Last week, news broke about Rihanna turning down an opportunity to headline the Super Bowl LIII halftime show in Atlanta, with insiders saying her decision was based in large part on the NFL’s response to former quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality during the national anthem.

On Monday, we learned that Grambling State University’s World Famed Tiger Marching Band and Southern University’s Human Jukebox would battle at halftime of a Thanksgiving Day game between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, one of the most highly-watched and heavily marketed games of the year second only to the Super Bowl.

Kaepernick is not an HBCU graduate, but his message has resonated with HBCU communities for several years. Many Americans have stood by his side and flooded social media with kneeling during the pledge of allegiance. HBCU athletes have been among those most noticed for their support of the movement.

Should HBCU marching bands still participate in NFL events, given our near unanimous HBCU community support for Kaepernick and disapproval of the NFL’s action against him? If HBCUs partner with the NFL, even by way of our marching bands, does it send the message that money and exposure is more important than Kaepernick’s efforts, or the issues to which he was trying to draw more attention?

Yes, performing during an NFL halftime could bring in loads of funding. But are our schools being blinded by their own worth, while the NFL tries to make the controversy with Kaepernick go away at our expense?

As students and graduates, we have discussions about police brutality on HBCU campuses and want to be the voice for black communities whose members feel they cannot speak for themselves. Many may take pride in the bands participating in this game, but what happens if many of our stakeholders react poorly, as we did when Talladega College’s marching band participated in the inaugural parade for Donald Trump?

HBCUs have pushed the culture forward, encouraged students to have a voice, and listened to their needs for change in the community. HBCU students have always been active in social change, many suffering brutal attacks and losing their lives for peacefully protesting as Kaepernick did.

It is easy to understand why Grambling and Southern should play for the NFL. It’s just hard to understand, with all of our history, why they would actually do so.

Alethia Barber is an alumna of the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore and Coppin State University.

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