More than 100 million people tuned in to watch Super Bowl 50 last night. In addition to seeing the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers, viewers also witnessed one of the most political halftime shows in the Super Bowl’s history as the legendary singer Beyoncé paid tribute to the Black Panthers and the Black Lives Matter movement. Backstage, Beyoncé’s dancers posed with their fists in the air, recalling the black power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics. Meanwhile, homeless advocates staged a series of protests in recent weeks over San Francisco’s efforts to sweep the homeless from the streets ahead of the Super Bowl. Many of the homeless were supplanted to make way for Super Bowl City, a gated exhibition area for NFL sponsors and fans to participate in game-associated festivities. We speak to sportswriter Dave Zirin.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn right now to the Super Bowl. More than 100 million people tuned in to watch Super Bowl 50 last night. In addition to seeing the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers, viewers also witnessed one of the most political halftime shows in the Super Bowl’s history, as the legendary singer Beyoncé paid tribute to the Black Panthers and the Black Lives Matter movement.
BEYONCÉ: [singing] OK, ladies, now let’s get in formation
OK, ladies, now let’s get in formation
Prove to me you got some coordination
You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making.
AMY GOODMAN: Backstage, Beyoncé’s dancers posed with their fists in the air, recalling the black power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics. Five of the dancers also paid tribute to Mario Woods, an African-American man killed by San Francisco police. The dancers posted a photo on Instagram holding a sign reading “Justice for Mario Woods.”
Meanwhile, homeless advocates staged a series of protests in recent weeks over San Francisco’s efforts to sweep the homeless from the streets ahead of the Super Bowl. Many of the homeless were supplanted to make way for Super Bowl City, a gated exhibition area for NFL sponsors and fans to participate in game-associated festivities.
Dave Zirin joins us from Washington, D.C., sports columnist for The Nation. His latest article, “The Streets of San Francisco: 'Super Bowl City' Meets Tent City.”
Thanks so much. His books include The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World, which he co-wrote with John Carlos. Your response to all that happened last night, Dave?
DAVE ZIRIN: Well, there’s on the field and off the field. I mean, on the field, you had the Denver Broncos exhibit one of the great defensive performances in Super Bowl history. Off the field, what you had was really an unprecedented sweep of the homeless before a Super Bowl contest. And, you know, every Super Bowl in the host city has a narrative that exists outside the game. In New Orleans, it was “How will the city recover after Hurricane Katrina?” In New York, if you remember—we discussed this, Amy—it was the sweep and harassment of sex workers before the big game that took place in the Meadowlands.
And in San Francisco, it’s the fact that you have this city of only 800,000 people that has a homeless population of 10,000. Sixty-one percent of the homeless in San Francisco were working at the time they lost their homes. And one-third of these 10,000 people are children. And yet, the response from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was: You better get off the street. You better get gone, because we’re about to have a party for the 1 percent. We’re about to have a Woodstock for the wealthy and celebrate the Super Bowl and celebrate our conspicuous consumption. There’s no greater symbol of this year’s Super Bowl, to me, than the fact you could go to the game and buy a delicious hot dog with real gold flakes sprinkled on top, so you could eat gold with your hot dog while people are literally hungry outside the most unequal and, by some metrics, the wealthiest city now in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about what happened inside, at halftime, Dave Zirin? Can you talk about not only what Beyoncé—
DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —did there with her song, the homage to the Black Panthers—
DAVE ZIRIN: It was too short.
AMY GOODMAN: —but also the song she released the day before, on Saturday, about police brutality and Hurricane Katrina?
DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah, sure. First of all, this is Super Bowl 50. It was in the Bay Area. It’s also the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party in the Bay Area. And that’s what Beyoncé and her background singers—background dancers were paying tribute to. And the song “Formation” is—and people should watch the video. There are more indelible images in the five minutes of this video than any Hollywood film I’ve seen in memory. And I really want to encourage people to go to the blog, New [South] Negress, and read a breakdown of the video by Zandria—that’s the author’s name—because, honestly, for me, as a white guy who’s from the North, I was only getting like 5 percent of what Beyoncé was trying to say. This is a video that’s rooted in Southern black experience, and it’s not only about the Black Lives Matter movement, it is about hundreds of years of black women resisting state violence with a centered approach that’s about mothers protecting their children and also about queer black women stepping up to be able to say, “We are here. We matter, too.” It’s radically audacious in terms of its visuals, in terms of its lyrics. And I’m frankly stunned that we have—that this country, that could serve sausages with gold flakes while people starve in the streets, can also be a country that could produce an artist as audaciously brilliant as Beyoncé and generate that kind of mass following and have her perform this song in an X formation at halftime of the Super Bowl. It’s remarkable.
AMY GOODMAN: Vince Warren, I want to get your response, as well, both to the video released on Saturday, not to be confused with what she did at the halftime performance on Sunday at the Super Bowl.
VINCENT WARREN: Yeah. With the video released on Saturday, it was about black love. It was about black empowerment. It was about women. It was about queer folks. People are saying it was the blackest and the gayest thing that she’s ever done, which is fabulous, which, of course, for anybody that’s working in the movement right now that—you know, being queer and being black and being authentically yourself and being a leader is what it’s all about. It was fabulous. It was wonderful to watch with the images of New Orleans, with the police lines, with the second lines. It just—
AMY GOODMAN: With the kid dancing in front of the police line in riot gear.
VINCENT WARREN: The kid dancing. But even as Dave says, going back a hundred years and really embracing—with Beyoncé embracing her heritage and making that, as it is for millions of black people, a part of what’s happening today was fabulous. And the other—on the Super Bowl thing, I mean, I tweeted this, that Bruno Mars and Beyoncé just killed it. They killed it dead. It was an extremely wonderful show musically. And I was very moved by the black power tribute and by the berets and by everything that was happening. And it didn’t feel to me like it was being fetishized.
DAVE ZIRIN: Right.
VINCENT WARREN: It felt to me like it was being owned and moved forward and presented 50 years later. What we gonna do? It was fabulous.
AMY GOODMAN: Last comment, Dave Zirin, as we wrap up?
DAVE ZIRIN: I mean, only that the struggle goes on for the people in San Francisco. San Francisco PD, they put down about 77 citations a day to the homeless people. It ends up with them being warehoused in prisons.
AMY GOODMAN: Dave Zirin, I want to end on the issue of concussion. We only have five seconds. Will Smith does a movie based on that, doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar—
DAVE ZIRIN: No.
AMY GOODMAN: OscarsSoWhite. But concussions in Super Bowl?
DAVE ZIRIN: Well, just that. We definitely saw some last night. Whether they’ll be—one player couldn’t come back into the game because of a concussion protocol. It doesn’t get discussed nearly enough. The moral calculus of the NFL on the head injuries is beneath contempt, and it’s a fight that’s going to have to be continued to be waged by both the union, by players and by journalists seeking the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: Dave Zirin, we have to leave it there, sports columnist for The Nation. Thanks so much to Vince Warren, as well, the Center for Constitutional Rights.