Opinion: Amanda Gorman’s Super Bowl invite must be the start of more social justice efforts by the NFL

Amanda Gorman, the poet who amazed viewers with her poem, “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, will now recite an original poem at Super Bowl LV this Sunday in Tampa Bay, Florida. The poem will be dedicated to three Americans — Trimaine Davis, an educator from Los Angeles, Suzie Dorner, a nurse manager from Florida and James Martin, a veteran from Pittsburgh who volunteers with the Wounded Warrior Project — for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. These individuals have also been named honorary captains for the Super Bowl.

According to NPR, it is unknown if Gorman’s invitation to recite her poem at the Super Bowl came directly from the NFL or if it came from Jay-Z, as his Roc Nation entertainment company joined a partnership with the NFL last year to help boost their social justice profile.

While it is good that the NFL is making strides in becoming more involved in the social justice movement, it is hard not to read these actions as being surface-level. This year, the NFL has taken steps to increase awareness of social justice issues, taking actions such as painting “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us” in the end zones. Additionally, the NFL has committed to spending $250 million over a ten-year period to combat systemic racism.

Inviting Amanda Gorman to recite her poem as an effort to promote social justice is especially ironic in this Super Bowl, considering the controversy over the Kansas City Chiefs’ mascot and name. Although the Chiefs’ name did not originate from Native Americans, the organization has adopted many Native American themes, such as fans doing “the tomahawk chop in Arrowhead Stadium while Warpaint the horse gallops after touchdowns.” This summer, the Kansas City Chiefs had the opportunity to change their name alongside the Washington Football Team, who were previously known as the Washington Redskins, but no such change was made.

In a time when racial equality is often at the forefront of discussion, it seems half-hearted for the NFL to invite Amanda Gorman to speak at the Super Bowl while still not calling on the Chiefs organization to change the name of Arrowhead Stadium as well as the practices that appropriate Native American culture.

Additionally, Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, did not issue an apology to quarterback Colin Kaepernick for what Kaepernick dealt with after protesting the national anthem before games until mid-2020. The apology came four years after Kaepernick first protested. Even though issuing an apology was another major step in the right direction, Kaepernick remains a free agent and has not been able to re-enter the NFL, making the apology nothing more than empty words.

While the actions that the NFL has taken this year are a step in the right direction, the NFL needs to do more to show that they are actually committed to creating change both within and outside the organization. Inviting Amanda Gorman to recite her poem at the Super Bowl is progress, but the NFL should not consider this to be an invitation that is ‘good for public relations’ or only to score ‘wokeness points.’ Instead, this should be just the beginning of the NFL’s commitment to social justice. The NFL should not just invite Amanda Gorman as a guest but also make it clear that the league is committed to listening to and living by her words.