Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee expressed his disappointment at the lack of spectators standing during the performance of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," often referred to as the "Black National Anthem."
The song was performed by Grammy award-winning artist Andra Day as part of the pre-game festivities for Super Bowl LVIII, which saw the Kansas City Chiefs face off against the San Francisco 49ers. Cohen, who represents a predominantly Black district in western Tennessee, took to social media to voice his disapproval. "Very very few stood for ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’" he wrote. "The Negro National Anthem. Not a pretty picture of Super Bowl crowd."
Day's performance was met with applause at the Allegiant Stadium, but Cohen's comments ignited a heated online debate. In response to a critic who argued that only one national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," should be respected, Cohen retorted, "I stand for both. And in Memphis, most do."
Another critic accused Democrats of instigating racial division in the country, to which Cohen responded, "Well, I honor our national anthem and respect it as representing our country and in our pride in it. However, if you look at the history and some of the verbiage, it does relate to slavery and not in a questioning manner."
The decision to include "Lift Every Voice and Sing" in the Super Bowl's pre-game festivities has been a contentious issue on social media. Despite being a regular feature since the 2020 season, critics argue that the nation has only one true national anthem and that the inclusion of another serves only to further racial division.
Republican Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida expressed his disapproval on social media, stating that he and his wife had decided not to watch the Super Bowl because they felt the inclusion of the "Black National Anthem" was a desecration of America's National Anthem.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, founder of the "1619 Project," countered these criticisms, arguing that the "White national anthem" is already played. She referred to "The Star-Spangled Banner," stating that it was written by a racist enslaver who believed Black people were inferior and fought abolitionists in the courts.
The NAACP began promoting "Lift Every Voice and Sing" as the country's "Black national anthem" in 1917. The song, written by James Weldon Johnson, was a plea for liberty and became a rallying cry for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Super Bowl also featured performances by Reba McEntire, who sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," and Post Malone, who performed "America the Beautiful." The halftime show was headlined by Usher and included a number of superstar cameos.
In the second overtime game in Super Bowl history, the Kansas City Chiefs overcame an early deficit to defeat the San Francisco 49ers 25-22, with quarterback Patrick Mahomes named the game's Most Valuable Player.