The Lose Yourself entertainer kneeled during the end of the show, after performing alongside Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige.
Articles published earlier on Sunday suggested that the rapper would be barred from kneeling “Colin Kaepernick-style,” and that Dr. Dre would be censored from saying his lyric “still not lovin’ the police,” while performing his song “Still Dre.”
But NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy denied that certain elements of the performance caught anyone off guard.
“It was no surprise to us,” he told HuffPost on Sunday. “We watched all elements of the show during multiple rehearsals this week and were aware that was going to happen.”
The NFL initially banned players and team personnel from sitting or kneeling during the national anthem, a policy that was approved by all NFL team owners, save for San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York, back in 2018. The policy stated that players wishing to protest could stay in the locker room.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the time that “on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic.”
This policy, which was supported by then-President Donald Trump, also included the option to fine those who disobeyed it.
Kaepernick first began kneeling in August 2016 to protest racial injustice and police brutality against Black people, setting off a civil rights movement and leading athletes of all sports to follow in his footsteps. Prior to kneeling, the former NFL quarterback protested by sitting during the national anthem.
It wasn’t until Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that the NFL admitted it was wrong for its treatment of players and personnel.
“We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” Goodell said at the time, without mentioning Kaepernick’s name. “We, the NFL, believe Black lives matter.”
Prior to the start of the Super Bowl, President Joe Biden called on the NFL to exercise “generic decency” in relation to its hires.
“The whole idea that a league that is made up of so many athletes of colour, as well as so diverse, that there’s not enough African American qualified coaches to, quote, ‘to manage’ these NFL teams, it just seems to me that it’s a standard that they’d want to live up to,” Biden said. “I don’t know if there’s not a requirement of law, but it’s a requirement, I think, of some just generic decency.”