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Super Bowl halftime performer Justin Timberlake just said his son will never play football

Even if he was kidding, the NFL can’t be that happy about it.

Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show Press Conference Christopher Polk/Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

At a pre-Super Bowl NFL press conference on Thursday, Super Bowl halftime performer Justin Timberlake may have implied that he has some strong feelings about whether he’d ever let his almost 3-year-old son play football.

Or maybe he was just making a joke. But the comment nonetheless led to an awkward moment that left many people wondering if Timberlake just dissed the sport at an event promoting its single biggest game of the year.

“He will never play football,” Timberlake bluntly told reporters, when asked about his hopes for his son’s future. “No. No. My main objective is that he become a great person, and if he wants to get into the arts or sports then, yeah, I would fully support that.”

To be clear, Timberlake’s delivery made it difficult to tell how serious he is.

Moments earlier, he’d joked about running routes and wanting to be a New England Patriots’ benchwarmer, volunteering to step in as Coach Bill Belichick’s last resort on the off-chance that all of the Patriots’ receivers wind up injured. He’d also commented on how impressed he was by his son’s speed in covering 100 yards.

From there came Timberlake’s brief declaration that the toddler will never play football, before he segued into a seemingly cookie-cutter response about not pressuring his kid to follow in his musical footsteps.

You can watch the full video here:

Journalists watching the event struggled to discern whether Timberlake’s statement was a joke or a serious comment alluding to growing concern over brain injuries in the NFL. No one at the press conference asked a follow-up question or requested clarification as to what Timberlake meant.

As SBNation points out, one 2017 study found that 99 percent of former NFL players who have donated their brains to research showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease.

No matter what, the NFL probably isn’t thrilled that the person it selected to headline the Super Bowl LII halftime show — a.k.a. what will be the most-watched American football game on the planet this year — uttered the phrase “my son will never play football” at a press conference to promote the Super Bowl.

Even if Timberlake was kidding, it’s difficult not to read into what he could have been saying about a dark side of football that many football fans and the NFL would rather not think about.