NFL wades back into controversy with new Super Bowl police shooting ad

Jan 24, 2020, 4:55 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2020, 7:11 pm
Retired NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin stars in an NFL PSA addressing police brutality set air dur...
Retired NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin stars in an NFL PSA addressing police brutality set air during Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 9 (Photo: 72AndSunny via CNN)
(Photo: 72AndSunny via CNN)

(CNN) — The NFL is wading back into controversial territory with a new police shooting ad set to air during the Super Bowl.

The 30-second spot, which stars retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin, re-enacts the October 18, 2015 death of Boldin’s late cousin, Corey Jones.

Boldin’s cousin was shot by former police officer Nouman Raja in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Raja, who was later found guilty of manslaughter and attempted murder in Jones’s death, was sentenced to 25 years in prison last year.

“I’ll never forget that night,” Boldin says during the video. “My wife walks up after the game and told me that my cousin, Corey, had been killed.”

When Jones was shot, Boldin was playing in an NFL game — catching passes from former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick brought significant attention to the issue of police brutality in 2016 by kneeling in protest against it during the National Anthem. Other NFL players, and eventually athletes around the world, began protesting in solidarity. In response, the NFL created a rule requiring players to stand during the Anthem or risk being fined in May of 2018.

But the league ultimately decided against punishing players for protesting during the Anthem and signed a $90 million deal with the Players Coalition, a nonprofit charitable group formed in 2015, to fund the athletes’ civic efforts across the country.

The protests — and the NFL’s reaction to them — garnered a firestorm of criticism. Now some experts question whether the league risks reigniting the controversy with some fans, including those who have boycotted in recent years at the behest of President Donald Trump.

The new ad is a promotion for the league’s Inspire Change initiative, a program created to address athletes’ social justice causes in their home communities. It is designed to serve as conversation starters for football fans, according to NFL chief marketing officer Tim Ellis.

“We felt it was important to clearly define for our fans what Inspire Change is, the work that our players are doing in support of social justice, and what inspired Anquan — who has been one of the players at the forefront of this work — to get involved with these efforts,” Ellis wrote in an emailed statement to CNN Business.

The commercial debuted Sunday during the AFC Championship game, but will re-air during Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, February 2. Another commercial, released online Wednesday, is a longer spot, telling the story of the late Botham Jean, the unarmed 26-year-old accountant who was fatally shot by a Dallas police officer in his own home in September 2018.

Risk vs. reward

Showing the Boldin ad on Super Bowl Sunday is a risky but potentially shrewd move said Donald Lehmann, professor of business marketing at Columbia Business School. It could reignite an anti-NFL social media firestorm among some conservative fans, but it could also pay dividends down the road with more sympathetic fans.

“It makes the brand look pretty good,” said Lehmann. “They didn’t over hype the issue, which will appeal to moderate people. … It’s a very measured ad. I give them credit for that.”

Both the NFL ads and Inspire Change could give the league a reputational boost, according to Helio Fred Garcia, the president of Logos Consulting Group, who teaches crisis communications at New York University.

“This is far more artfully done than I would have expected from the NFL,” Garcia said. “The NFL has not been very adept at dealing with controversies.”

Patrick Yoes, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 800,000 officers across the United States, said he applauded NFL players for their “constructive” approach to police shootings. But he said the Boldin ad mischaracterizes how police typically interact with their communities.

“It’s a tragedy all the way around,” Yoes said of Boldin’s story. “This one incident that’s identified [in the ad] makes it appear law enforcement is something other than what it is. That one instance does not define who [police officers] are as a profession.”

Some local police union members have made public statements denouncing the players’ kneeling protests in the past, but Yoes said his organization and its members have no plans take action or speak out against the NFL in response to its new campaign.

“We want to be part of the solution,” he said.

Social justice activists largely praised the commercials.

Several groups joined forces in 2017 to form the United We Stand coalition, which called for a boycott of the NFL and its sponsors until Kaepernick once again works for the NFL. Kaepernick settled a collusion lawsuit against the league in February 2019, but hasn’t played for the last three seasons.

“The ads are certainly thought provoking,” said Tamika Mallory, founder of Until Freedom, a social justice organization, and who also co-founded the inaugural Women’s March in 2017. “It is extremely important they reach an audience outside of the communities being impacted by police violence.”

Many have argued Kaepernick and the Anthem protests contributed to the NFL’s ratings decline in 2016 and 2017, but viewership has risen the last two years even as the protests and the Kaepernick saga have continued.

“The skeptic in me says this [Inspire Change] effort is trying to focus attention away from Kaepernick,” said Helio Fred Garcia, president of the Logos Consulting Group, who teaches crisis communications at New York University. “The less skeptical side says, at least they’re making a difference in a public discussion that needs to happen and has been mishandled so many times.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story provided the wrong name of Boldin’s cousin who was shot and killed by a police officer.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

Man who shot Lady Gaga's dog walker...
Taylor Romine and Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN

Man involved in shooting of Lady Gaga’s dog walker sentenced to 21 years in prison

Originally Published: 05 DEC 22 21:53 ET     (CNN) — One of the people charged in the shooting and robbery of Lady Gaga’s dog walker last year has been sentenced to 21 years in state prison, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office said Monday. James Howard Jackson, 20, pleaded no contest to one count of […]
6 hours ago
Great Salt Lake State Park and Marina...
Mark Jones

How much will it take to save the Great Salt Lake?

A bipartisan bill was passed in the U.S. Senate aimed at giving funding toward the study of The Great Salt Lake and other saline lakes in the west.
1 day ago
goblin mode...
Christian Edwards, CNN

‘Goblin mode’ chosen as Oxford word of the year for 2022

According to OUP, the term refers to a behavior which is "self-indulgent, lazy, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations."
1 day ago
free national park...
Aimee Cobabe

Lawsuit against Arches National Park after incident resulting in the death of a woman

A trial is underway after a woman was decapitated at Arches National Park. Her family alleges the park was negligent in not securing a gate that killed her.
1 day ago
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19:  The U.S. Capitol is shown as a looming government shutdown threatens ...
Manu Raju and Phil Mattingly, CNN

Defense bill likely to include end to military Covid vaccine mandate, source says

A massive bill setting defense policy is likely to end the military Covid vaccine mandate, a source familiar with the negotiations tells CNN.
1 day ago
kindergarten gap year...
Tom Haraldsen

Checking in on the status of full-day kindergarten in Utah

Policy analyst with Voices for Utah Children reveals whether full-day kindergarten could be in the cards for next year.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
NFL wades back into controversy with new Super Bowl police shooting ad