In 2016, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested police violence against the African American community by kneeling during the singing of the national anthem before NFL games.
In the ensuing years, Kaepernick’s protest became a focal point of internet outrage. Even though Kaepernick got the idea from a former active-duty Green Beret who advised him that kneeling during the anthem would be a respectful way to protest, some conservative commentators and political figures claimed the protest was a sign of disrespect toward military members.
Fast forward to Super Bowl LIV, in which the Kansas City Chiefs and 49ers went head-to-head in Miami Gardens, Florida, on Feb. 2, 2020. Public shaming for the alleged failure to adhere to expectations of decorum during the anthem turned into something of a sideshow to the game itself.
A brief video posted by celebrity gossip outlet TMZ during the start of the game showed hip hop icons Beyonce, Jay-Z, and their daughter Blue Ivy sitting during the singing of the anthem by Demi Lovato.
It remains unclear why the family remained seated. Some assumed it was a show of support for Kaepernick’s protest, while some observed that others in their area also remained seated during the anthem. Beyonce, for her part, appeared to be singing along with Lovato’s rendition. We sent an email to Beyonce’s talent agency asking for clarification about whether she and her family intended to make a political statement, but we received no answer.
Perhaps predictably, the debate over Beyonce, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy had its own backlash when shortly afterward a video emerged from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Florida resort Mar-a-Lago, which appeared to show him hamming it up during the anthem in an effort to entertain people gathered there to watch the game.
Video of Trump shows him pointing and conducting a pretend orchestra during the singing of the anthem. The clip spread online with commentary, like the one below from left-leaning The Young Turks (TYT) that alleged Trump does not respect national symbols.
Trump has harshly criticized NFL players who protested by kneeling during the anthem, asking for example in 2017, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired.'”
Jay-Z has been criticized for stating he supports Kaepernick’s protest while also entering into a business partnership with the NFL that included producing the Super Bowl LIV half-time show that featured pop superstars Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. His family’s decision to sit during the anthem for whatever reason earned some criticism from Kaepernick.
A code does exist that suggests proper conduct for how one should behave during the playing of the anthem, but it is not illegal to disregard it. Title 36, Section 301 of the U.S. Code generally states that all present should stand and hold their right hands over their hearts during the anthem.