Is political expression simply a matter of normality?

Hardly anyone older than 20 years old needs to be reminded the 2018 half-time show was not Justin Timberlake’s debut. More than two years after his infamous duet with Janet Jackson in Super Bowl 38, “nipplegate” still held the Guinness World Record for most Internet searches of all time.

The CBS network was embroiled in a somewhat low-stakes lawsuit with the FCC for a few years, but not much came of it. The FCC lost, appealed to the Supreme Court, and was deferred. Still, the scandal was etched in our collective memory.

In a breach of the social compact, a nipple was bared before an audience of 100 million people. 

Had it happened on stage at Lollapalooza, no bones would be made. Shoulders would be shrugged, and Internet users would be stuck with cat videos. However, the Super Bowl’s audience is 11 or 12 times larger than an average Sunday night game, and size calls for cleanliness. 

Thus it’s not surprising no one kneeled for the anthem on Sunday (or during the whole of the playoffs, for that matter). The stakes were high enough  players knew they’d be outcast for life if caught with a knee on the ground. 

You might call it implicit censorship or just plain pressure. It’s not inherently bad, but to understand why it is used it may help to think about the argument against anthem-kneelers. 

First, I’d like to set aside the argument that kneeling is unpatriotic or disrespectful to our soldiers, because I think it is a red herring. Our troops and veterans are far from united on the issue. And how many arguments have you heard, or been party to, that have gone something like this:  

- The kneelers are unpatriotic. 

- Are they not expressing one of our core liberties? The ones our military is sworn to protect?

- Well, maybe, but it doesn’t belong in football. Protest on your own time, but keep politics off the field.

Keep politics off the field. In my experience, that has been the argument beneath the argument every time. As someone who doesn’t watch football, I am tempted to accept the syllogism: kneeling is a form of politics; politics has no place in football; therefore, kneeling has no place in football. 

For more of this column, pick up a copy of this week’s Big Timber Pioneer on newsstands now, or subscribe online at

By CHRIS AIKEN / Pioneer reporter



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