Some of the most drama-filled moments of Super Bowl LII occurred just before kickoff.
Questions were in the air about whether a flu-ridden Pink would manage to show up and lip-synch to the national anthem, which is mandated to be pre-recorded. The singer had reportedly struggled during a Thursday rehearsal, but rallied for a concert appearance at the Armory in Minneapolis on Friday.
Pink – who hastily removed a wad of gum before singing, a moment captured for millions – carried off the mime with her trademark emotion and grace.
The second question of the moment was whether anyone would kneel during the song. NBC said it would show any players that took a knee, sat on the bench, or raised a fist during the anthem. None were visible on camera.
The Philadelphia Eagles had seen defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, safety Rodney McLeod, and defensive lineman Chris Long raise their fists during the national anthem in the regular season.
Jenkins was one of the most outspoken players in the league, and eventually became a catalyst for the NFL’s decision to donate a reported $100 million to social justice causes. He stopped raising his fist after those plans were announced, and none of his teammates protested during the anthem in the playoffs.
The New England Patriots had no kneelers or fist-raisers beyond the first week of the NFL season, when Patriots players Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett raised their right fists after the song had completed. Bennett was placed on season-ending injured reserved by the Patriots in November and was not on the field, while McCourty has followed the rest of his teammates and stayed out of the controversy.
No players protested during the national anthem at the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston.
President Donald Trump also weighed in before the game. Trump had passed on a television interview before the game, a change from what many American presidents had done in the past. Trump’s comments during the regular seasons were seen as a key to player protests, each new tweet sparking a fresh wave of kneeling when he called them out.
Instead of another warning, he instead issued a mild written statement that attempted to guilt players into standing for the anthem by invoking the men and women of the US Armed Forces.
“As many Americans come together to watch the Super Bowl, Melania and I extend our greetings and appreciation for those who make occasions like this possible, particularly the brave men and women of our Armed Forces.
“Though many of our Nation’s service members are unable to be home with family and friends to enjoy this evening’s American tradition, they are always in our thoughts and prayers. We owe these heroes the greatest respect for defending our liberty and our American way of life. Their sacrifice is stitched into each star and every stripe of our Star-Spangled Banner. We hold them in our hearts and thank them for our freedom as we proudly stand for the National Anthem.
We send our best wishes for an enjoyable Super Bowl Sunday. May God bless and protect our troops, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.”