Eminem kneels at Super Bowl half-time show: why did he do it and what does it mean?

The rapper makes a statement in an apparent tribute to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his fight against social injustice

Eminem kneels on stage after his performance during the half-time show of Super Bowl. AFP
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Despite its edgy headliners performing clean versions of their greatest hits, Sunday night's Super Bowl half-time show did not go down without a bit of controversy.

Already referred to by some as one of the greatest half-time shows, the high-wattage performance, featuring hip-hop greats Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Mary J Blige and Eminem, along with Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak, proved that rap music can work as well in the family-friendly spectacle, one of the most-watched sporting events in the world.

But it is Eminem, music's most prominent white rapper, who is set to dominate post-show conversations and debates. As his rendition of the massive 2002 hit Lose Yourself ended at the 70,000-capacity SoFi Stadium, Eminem, dressed in a black hoodie, took a knee and held his head in his hand in an apparent tribute to Colin Kaepernick.

Scroll through the gallery for more pictures from the Super Bowl 2022 half-time show:

Kaepernick, a former NFL quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, received worldwide attention in 2016 for kneeling during the US national anthem to protest against police brutality and racial injustice.

At Sunday's show, Eminem went down on one knee for a moment while Dr Dre sat in front of a piano and played the opening notes of his hit Still Dre, before all of the performers joined together to close the rap spectacular as fireworks lit up the sky.

While earlier reports suggested that the NFL, which owns the Super Bowl, had told Eminem not to kneel during the performance, a representative denied it soon after.

“We watched all elements of the show during multiple rehearsals this week and were aware that Eminem was going to do that,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

Why did Colin Kaepernick 'take a knee' while he was a player in the NFL?

epa05620893 YEARENDER 2016 OCTOBER 
San Francisco 49ers back-up quarterback Colin Kaepernick (C), San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold (L), and San Francisco 49ers free safety Eric Reid (R) take a knee during the US national anthem before the NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, USA, 02 October 2016. Kaepernick is protesting police brutality and oppression in America.  EPA/JOHN G MABANGLO *** Local Caption *** 53107662

Before the American football season began in 2016, Kaepernick had been actively voicing his opinions on social media, decrying police violence against black Americans. Then, during the preseason games, reporters began to notice the quarterback was refusing to stand whenever the US national anthem was played.

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour," Kaepernick told NFL media after a game in August. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

As Kaepernick's activism received widespread coverage, more NFL players and professional athletes participated in various acts of silent protest, from sitting or kneeling to raising a fist, every time the US national anthem was played, soon sparking a nationwide debate. The support only strengthened Kaepernick's resolve, who soon stepped up his activism, donating millions to community groups and social justice causes throughout the country.

By March 2017, however, after leaving the San Francisco 49ers and becoming a free agent, Kaepernick was not signed by a single NFL team.

Then US president Donald Trump saw an opportunity in the raging debate: "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, get that [expletive] off the field right now," he said at a rally.

What happened to Kaepernick after he left football?

In October 2017, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL, accusing owners of colluding by not signing him and keeping him out of the league. The next year, an arbitrator denied the NFL's request to dismiss the complaint and allowed Kaepernick's lawsuit against the league to move forward. In February 2019, Kaepernick reached a settlement with the NFL and withdrew the grievance.

Since leaving the league, Kaepernick has continued his activism. He has been praised for his bravery, winning a number of honours including the American Civil Liberties Union's Courageous Advocate Award and Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award. GQ magazine also called him the Citizen of the Year in 2017.

In 2018, Nike released advertisements featuring Kaepernick, with the line: "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything."

In 2019, Rihanna confirmed she had turned down an offer to perform for the Super Bowl half-time show, citing Kaepernick.

"I couldn't dare do that," she told Vogue. "For what? Who gains from that? Not my people. I just couldn't be a sell-out. I couldn't be an enabler. There's things within that organisation that I do not agree with at all, and I was not about to go and be of service to them in any way."

Last year, Netflix released a six-episode limited fictionalised drama series based on Kaepernick's life called Colin in Black & White.

Opening doors for hip-hop artists

Snoop Dogg, Mary J Blige and Dr Dre at the Super Bowl half-time show press conference. AFP

Speaking ahead of their performance at the half-time show last week, Dr Dre said the show would create more opportunities for hip-hop.

“We’re going to open more doors for hip-hop artists in the future and making sure that the NFL understands that this is what it should have been a long time ago,” the rapper said at a media event also attended by Snoop Dogg and Mary J Blige.

“It’s crazy that it took all of this time for us to be recognised,” Dre said. “I think we’re going to do a fantastic job. We’re going to do it so big that they can’t deny us any more in the future.”

Snoop Dogg called it a “great moment” that combined “the biggest sporting event in the world” with hip-hop, “the biggest form of music in the world.”

“We appreciate the NFL for even entertaining hip-hop because we know a lot of people that don’t want hip-hop onstage,” he said. “But we’re here now and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Social media responds to Eminem's gesture at the Super Bowl half-time show

Meanwhile, social media was abuzz with Eminem taking the knee.

"Eminem took the knee despite NFL [telling] him not to. Legend behaviour," one user wrote on Twitter.

"If you tell Eminem not to do something, Slim Shady will do it instead. A legend!" another wrote, referring to Eminem's alter ego.

"Eminem is the man. Great to see him take the knee after his performance," posted another fan.

Another fan called it a "beautiful" gesture.

Updated: February 14, 2022, 10:03 AM