Tennesse Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen expressed outrage at the Super Bowl LVIII crowd for not standing up during the black national anthem.
“Very very few stood at Super Bowl for ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’. The Negro National Anthem. Not a pretty picture of Super Bowl crowd.” Cohen groused on X.
Sunday marked the second consecutive Super Bowl in which the ballad was performed live on-field for the big game. The poem was sung by Andra Day and drew much fanfare from the audience.
The black national anthem was composed by civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson in the late 19th century as an ode to hope for African American freedom as well as faith.
Cohen, who is Jewish, represents Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District, which is 66.8% black. He is the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation.
“I stand for both. And in Memphis, most do,” Cohen replied when one X user criticised [sic] the use of two national anthems.
“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,” he later explained.
Prior to last year’s Super Bowl, during which the NFL officially played the hymn live on the field before kickoff for the first time, the league had played the black national anthem at other games.
For years, the NFL had been consumed by controversy over players kneeling during the national anthem — “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
In 2018, the NFL began barring players from kneeling during the anthem and to remain in the locker rooms if there was an issue.
A bevy of black athletes such as former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem to protest the treatment of black Americans in the country, triggering backlash.
Cohen has stoked controversy with his tweets about race relations in the past, including one nonsensical post in 2013.
“Told AfricanAmerican towdriver my week -father -DNA test not father reporter/ attractive fallout.he(not aware of TN9)says,You’re BLack! Yo,” he posted on Twitter, as it was then called.
He later explained that was a joke and suggested that his black constituents see him as one of them.
“It was fun. It was funny. I had a tough night. Here’s what happened: I drive an ‘86 Caddy. A lot of African-Americans drive old cars — a stereotype — a lot of African-Americans drive old cars,” Cohen later recounted to MSNBC.
“I’m having no luck. He drives me, we ditch the car, I come back and I tell him the story. … He goes, ‘Man, you’re black.’ And I took it was a compliment. I hear it in Memphis all the time. My constituents don’t look at me as a white person, they say, ‘You’re one of us.’”
Cohen has previously dispatched black Democratic primary challengers for his seat, including one that cut an ad trying to link him to the Klu Klux Klan. He has served in Congress since 2007.