POLITICS

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

Politics

Jeff Gray is pictured. Photo credit: Jeff Gray Campaign Facebook page....
Lindsay Aerts and Samantha Herrera

Jeff Gray to bring back death penalty after becoming presumptive next Utah County Attorney

In the race for Utah County Attorney, prosecutor Jeff Gray beat incumbent David Leavitt and is expected to take office in January.
5 days ago
A voter drops a ballot into a box at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Mo...
Becky Bruce

The Utah primary election is expected to be ‘pretty normal’

Tuesday's primary election in Utah is expected to be about average for a midterm election.
7 days ago
A voter fills in the ballot on the voting machine during the Election Day voting at Vivint Smart Ho...
Lindsay Aerts

State elections leaders dismiss state lawmakers claims of vote switching

WASATCH COUNTY, Utah — The State Elections Office says all of the state’s voting machines are working correctly ahead of Primary Election Day Tuesday. This comes after Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, made claims on social media, that some of the machines were changing people’s votes. Screenshot of Lyman’s social media post. Lyman posted on Facebook […]
7 days ago
A crowd gathers in front of the Utah State Capitol on Friday, June 24, 2022, to protest the U.S. Su...
Waverly Golden

Planned Parenthood of Utah files lawsuit against the state

Utah's Trigger Law saw its first challenge on Saturday as Planned Parenthood of Utah filed a lawsuit to block the law that went into effect Friday evening.
8 days ago
marriage Utah Sen. Derek Kitchen firearm codify...
Mark Jones

With Roe v. Wade now overturned, could same-sex marriage be next?

Many people are wondering what precedents the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on next, possibly same-sex marriage. Utah Sen. Derek Kitchen says the court could do so it wishes.
10 days ago
A crowd gathers in front of the Utah State Capitol on Friday, June 24, 2022, to protest the U.S. Su...
Mark Jones

S.B. 174 now in effect in Utah with Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade

With the overturn of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Utah trigger law, known as S.B. 174 is now in effect in the state.
10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
NFL wades back into controversy with new Super Bowl police shooting ad