That’s what the “Midnight Train to Georgia” songstress told Variety in response to the news outlet’s question about her stance on the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand during the anthem in protest of injustices against African-Americans and other minorities in the United States and has been out of a job since the 2016 season ended.
“I understand that Mr. Kaepernick is protesting two things, and they are police violence and injustice,” Knight, a seven-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, told Variety. “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.”
She continued, “I am here today and on Sunday, Feb. 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.”
She ended by saying, “No matter who chooses to deflect with this narrative and continue to mix these two in the same message, it is not so and cannot be made so by anyone speaking it. I pray that this national anthem will bring us all together in a way never before witnessed and we can move forward and untangle these truths which mean so much to all of us.”
Although Knight has many supporters (“You tell em, Gladys Knight” is representative of the backing she’s getting), doubling down on her decision has just fanned the flames. Her quote about giving “the anthem back its voice” in particular is one being discussed on social media, with commenters pointing to the complicated history of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“[Does] she know a man that owned slaves wrote that song?” one person asked, of course referring to Francis Scott Key, whose poem — about an American victory over the British during the War of 1812 — was turned into the anthem.
Do she knew a man that owned slaves wrote that song?
— cdub the PA (@CdubPa) January 18, 2019
The third stanza of Key’s poem, which was called “The Defence of Fort McHenry,” has been interpreted by some historians as racist for decrying former American slaves who were fighting with the British and were defeated. That section of the poem has been shared on Twitter Stories with Knight’s defense.
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”
– 3rd verse of the National Anthem…celebrating… https://t.co/Kit639YMgD
— TL Cool Tre (@TreReal) January 18, 2019
Some comments from Instagram expressed similar sentiments.
Make no mistake, people have a lot of respect for Knight. Even though some were quick to “cancel” her after the initial news, there are many taking the “agree to disagree” route.
Others are pointing out that Knight singing isn’t the biggest problem here.
I see players still playing or preforming so why give her grief.
— Georgene Roselles (@GeorgeneRosell2) January 18, 2019
After Rihanna reportedly turned down the halftime show in support of Kaepernick, Maroon 5 was bashed for stepping in for the job. Travis Scott and Big Boi, who will be part of Adam Levine’s band’s show, were as well. Although there were reports that Scott had been given the OK from Kaepernick to perform, Kaepernick made it clear that that was not the case.
Kaepernick hasn’t spoken out about Knight. However, yesterday was the late Muhammad Ali’s birthday and he shared a clip of the boxer and activist talking and called him the “people’s champ.” In it, Ali said: “Money means nothing to me nor boxing when it comes to the freedom of your people. Everything I’m doing — if it means hitchhike tomorrow, if it means be raggedy, if it means look for a job, I’ll be happy because I go to bed, my conscience is clear and I didn’t sell out or trade my people just because I could be rich in Hollywood.”
The Super Bowl will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Feb. 3.
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