Before recent events, no matter who you asked, Gladys Knight was a revered and respected music icon. Known as the “Empress of Soul”, the 7-time Grammy winner’s fame is without question. Collaborating with stars like Elton John, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder, Knight has been a strong figure in not only the music industry but also the’ African American community for decades. Knight has also been a philanthropist, working for worthy causes such as the Boys and Girls Club and the Minority AIDS Project. However, since agreeing to sing the National Anthem at the upcoming 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta, Knight is now the most recent celebrity being criticized for their lack of participation in the NFL boycott, started by former San Francisco 49er, Colin Kaepernick.
“Atlanta, I’m coming home!” Knight tweeted on January 17th, announcing her participation in the event and sparking almost instantaneous backlash in the black community and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Knight subsequently released a statement in response to the criticism:
“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…I am here today and on Sunday, (February 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.”
The reaction on twitter to Knights statement is split; many fans have jumped to Knight’s defense and support, while others have stated that Knight is now among artists that the black community must “#cancel” and that she is disrespecting the movement with her participation. Many of her supporters feel that Knight has “earned the right to sign the anthem” and that her choice will unite the movement and show patriotism and respect, while others believe that her participation ignores and therefore supports a country in which oppression and injustice is very much alive. Knight’s point that “fighting for justice” and singing the National Anthem are separate things is a quite interesting take, but many people feel that it is less about the song itself and more about the fact that the NFL is the center of the event.
Nonetheless, no matter your stance on Knight’s commitment to SBLIII and its impact on the #BlackLivesMatter movement, I think we can all agree that just as many eyes will be on Knight in the upcoming weeks as they are on Tom Brady and Jared Goff in anticipation of the game!