The NFL announced Thursday that legendary soul singer Gladys Knight will be singing the national anthem at Super Bowl LIII this weekend in her hometown of Atlanta. The national anthem, though, has been contested cultural terrain as of late. Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice in 2016, and hasn’t been allowed to play professional football since. When asked about this, Knight said that she wanted to reclaim the song’s meaning and power.
“I understand that Mr. Kaepernick is protesting two things and they are police violence and injustice. 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,” Knight said in a statement to EW. “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.”
Kaepernick also looms large in the minds of this Super Bowl’s halftime performers. The show will be performed by Maroon 5, along with rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi (the latter an Atlanta native like Knight). Last week, Variety reported that Scott had consulted with Kaepernick before making the decision to perform, and will make a large donation to the social justice organization Dream Corps.