One of the most depleting aspects of living through a politically turbulent moment is figuring out ways to reasonably and responsibly loosen your grip for just a moment—to briefly exchange vigilance for something close to relaxation. The more charged and high-stakes that everyday decisions feel (what to consume and where; who to communicate with and how) the more exhausting it becomes to simply survive the day. When a beloved event like the Super Bowl—historically, an evening to shriek inanities at your television, clown your friends, and eat fistfuls of cheese balls from a plastic barrel—is reconfigured as an ideological showdown, a weariness sets in. “So was I once myself a swinger of birches / And so I dream of going back to be,” Robert Frost wrote in 1916. We all long—sometimes deeply—for a more innocent time.
Yet perhaps Super Bowl Sunday is an apt day to foreground such things. The preening, lovelorn rock band Maroon 5 has reportedly been selected to perform at the next halftime show, one of the most widely coveted and feared gigs in the whole of popular music. (It is famously unpaid, but offers an audience of over a hundred million.) Musically, the band, which writes electronic-inflected pop songs about romantic relations, is a safe choice—it seems certain that there is a Maroon 5 single softly playing in a CVS somewhere in America right this moment. In the past, its members have advocated for liberal causes and Democratic candidates. In a 2011 tweet, the singer Adam Levine—who has been vocally supportive of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, appearing on the cover of Out—responded to Fox News after it used a Maroon 5 song as background music. “Dear Fox News, don’t play our music on your evil fucking channel ever again. Thank you,” he wrote.
Football has never been apolitical—the game itself is plainly militaristic—but, since 2016, when the quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained seated during the national anthem, in a silent protest against the systemic racism that has led to police brutality, football has become explicitly charged. Donald Trump, while delivering a speech in Huntsville, Alabama, in late 2017, complained that players like Kaepernick were contemptuous and should be punished by the N.F.L. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these N.F.L. owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,’ ” Trump said. Kaepernick has not been rehired.
Is it hypocritical—a kind of lame, tacit endorsement—for Maroon 5 (or any left-leaning artist) to appear on the show? Earlier this fall, a thirty-three-year-old North Carolinian named Vic Oyedeji started an online petition demanding that the band decline the N.F.L.’s offer. It has since received more than seventy-five thousand signatures. Oyedeji lives in Durham, where he runs Dubata, an online tech school that he founded. “When Kaep first took a knee, I was very relieved,” he told me. “At that time, in 2016, there was a helpless feeling among many of us that America just didn’t care about what was happening to people of color,” he continued. “This hit me personally as well. That same year a man named Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by a police officer, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I didn't know Terence, but he had a late brother named Joey that was a phenomenal keyboardist and a musical mentor of mine when I went to college there in the mid-two-thousands. We played at the same church together. So seeing his brother get shot and killed like that on camera while being called ‘a bad dude’ got me emotionally invested into why these things keep happening to unarmed people of color.”
Both Rihanna and Jay-Z have reportedly refused to perform because of the league’s treatment of Kaepernick. (I should point out that there are also other, very good reasons to disavow professional football.) On Instagram, the comedian Amy Schumer suggested that Maroon 5 follow their example and relinquish its slot. “I personally told my reps I wouldn’t do a Super Bowl commercial this year,” she wrote. “I know it must sound like a privilege-ass sacrifice but it’s all I got. Hitting the N.F.L. with the advertisers is the only way to really hurt them.”
Oyedeji agrees. “The most effective way to protest longtime, historical institutions is to boycott,” he said. “Boycotting will easily get ownership and the sponsors’ attention, since it affects their reputation and the most important thing, their revenue,” Oyedeji said. “It sucks that Maroon 5 were caught in this,” he added. “They are a great band, but the cause is bigger than their performance.”
Meanwhile, Maroon 5 has supposedly been having difficulty corralling high-profile guests. Oyedeji has updated the petition to directly address the rapper Cardi B, who is featured on the band’s latest single, “Girls Like You.” In 2017, Cardi B expressed her dissatisfaction with the N.F.L. to Billboard: “You gon’ hire Colin now, or we ain’t gonna be watching football Sunday, we’re gonna be watching baseball on whatever days baseball is on.” It’s still unclear whether she’ll join the band to perform the song. “She’s been going back and forth, but it’s a no right now,” a source told Us Weekly.
This time of year inevitably reminds us that self-care and political watchfulness—perhaps the twin titans of the Zeitgeist, at least as evidenced on social media—are often at odds. It is becoming increasingly impossible to untangle the political from the personal or, in this case, the recreational. Where do our politics begin and where do they end? For Oyedeji, at least, it’s simple. Stay true: “If you don’t support how the N.F.L. treated Colin Kaepernick, don’t support the money-making festivities the N.F.L. has to offer.”