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Could a celebrity boycott of the Super Bowl really help Colin Kaepernick?

Schumer vowed not to appear in Super Bowl ads, and Rihanna reportedly turned down a chance to perform during halftime.

Amy Schumer said she won’t be doing any more Super Bowl ads because she wants to support Colin Kaepernick.
Amy Schumer has announced that she won’t appear in any Super Bowl ads because of the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick.

Rihanna’s reported boycott of the Super Bowl appears to be having a ripple effect. Last week, news broke that the pop star turned down an invite to perform at the 2019 Super Bowl halftime show. She reportedly declined because of the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback shut out of the league after kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness about police brutality.

After word spread that Rihanna turned down a request to appear at the halftime show, comedian Amy Schumer shared on Instagram that she would not appear in any Super Bowl ads.

“I personally told my reps I wouldn’t do a Super Bowl commercial this year,” Schumer, who previously appeared in a 2016 Super Bowl ad for Bud Light, wrote. “I know it must sound like a privilege ass sacrifice but it’s all I got. Hitting the NFL with the advertisers is the only way to really hurt them. I know opposing the NFL is like opposing the NRA. Very tough, but don’t you want to be proud of how you’re living?”

The comedian has had her own controversies related to race, apologizing for telling a racist joke about Hispanics in 2015. She said the joke and other offensive humor stemmed from her “dumb white girl” stage persona. In the wake of the backlash, Schumer said she would take responsibility for her words in the future.

Her decision to back out of Super Bowl ads may signal some growth on her part. Her support of Kaepernick and Rihanna’s boycott of the halftime show help to amplify the athlete’s activism more than two years after he first kneeled during the anthem. Their protest may also usher in a new wave of celebrity activism, as a wide range of public figures, including Diddy, Kathy Griffin, Anika Noni Rose, and Jameela Jamil, have applauded them.

Stephanie Creary, an assistant professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, told Vox that Kaepernick’s message has been largely misrepresented: His critics have framed his activism as an anti-American protest against the flag rather than opposition to police brutality. As a result, influential supporters can help draw attention to his original cause, she said.

But a celebrity boycott of the Super Bowl will likely not adversely affect the NFL unless sponsors pull their ads. There’s also a possibility sponsors will try to toe the line to appeal to Americans on both sides of the issue, according to Creary.

“I would be interested to see if sponsors, the big money corporations, decide they’re not going to pay millions of dollars of to run ads, or if advertisers are going to do what they did right after the Trump elections,” Creary said. “They ran pro-diversity ads as a counternarrative to Trump.”

Creary said it’s interesting that more celebrities are engaging in political activism and that by doing so, they magnify social causes. She questions if the average American, for example, can articulate why Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem in the first place. But the recent Nike ad starring Kaepernick and Rihanna and Schumer’s stances on the NFL have kept the quarterback and his politics in the spotlight.

Without these developments, “most people wouldn’t be thinking about ... the movement Kaepernick started,” Creary said.

NFL ratings may support Creary’s argument. Last year, as the debate over Kaepernick gripped the nation, ratings fell. During the 2018-’19 season, however, ratings are on the rise. They have been up across networks for the first seven weeks of the season, according to Michael Mulvihill of Fox Sports. The cause for the spike has been attributed by some to Kaepernick’s protest falling out of news headlines.

Kaepernick’s own fate in the league no longer dominates the news. He hasn’t played in the NFL since January 1, 2017. And he’s filed a lawsuit accusing NFL team owners of colluding to keep him out of the league.

Rihanna’s decision to decline the halftime show and Schumer’s refusal to appear in Super Bowl ads, however, generated international press that reminds the public about both Kaepernick’s status in the league and the reason he protested at all.

Schumer is trying to convince other celebrities to take up Kaepernick’s cause: The comedian urged white athletes to kneel, as Kaepernick did, to call out systemic racism. She also suggested that Maroon 5, the pop group scheduled to perform during the halftime show, should withdraw from the event.

Schumer wrote on Instagram, “I think it would be cool if @maroon5 backed out of Super Bowl like @badgalriri did.” Maroon 5 leader Adam Levine said in 2015 he and the band “very actively want to play the Super Bowl,” so it’s doubtful it will withdraw from the event. But if a critical mass of celebrities use their influence to advocate for Kaepernick, his struggle, and the NFL’s role in it, won’t simply fall away.

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