Before Reba McEntire sang the national anthem at Sunday’s Super Bowl, the announcer recognized CODA star Daniel Durant as the artist who would be performing the song in American Sign Language. The camera cut to Durant, who waved, and then was never shown again. The broadcast didn’t show much of Anjel Piñero (who signed “America The Beautiful”) or Shaheem Sanchez (who signed “Lift Every Voice And Sing” as well as Usher’s Halftime Show), either, and the omission didn’t go unnoticed.
Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, who in 1993 was shown signing along with Garth Brooks during the entirety of his national anthem performance, posted on Twitter/X, “I am absolutely SHOCKED at @CBS for introducing the Deaf performers at today’s pregame #SuperBowl and then not showing even one second (or more) of their performance… as has been tradition for the last 30 years. WHY!?”
The NFL did promote a separate platform on the CBS Sports website where viewers could watch the full ASL performances. But according to an Axios study, ASL performers actually “appeared on screen for 8% or less” of the national anthem on the main Super Bowl broadcast. This has caused controversy in the past, including a New York Times op-ed from Super Bowl performer Christine Kim in 2020, after she was barely shown on the broadcast. “Why have a sign language performance that is not accessible to anyone who would like to see it?” Kim wrote. “To be honest, it was a huge disappointment—a missed opportunity in the struggle for media inclusiveness on a large scale. Though thrilled and excited to be on the field serving the deaf community, I was angry and exasperated.”
There have been many celebrated ASL performances in recent years, including Justina Miles’ interpretation of Rhianna’s halftime show at last year’s Super Bowl. Though this year was light on ASL in the main broadcast, Sanchez nevertheless described the opportunity (through an interpreter) as “lit” on CBS Mornings. “I actually taught Usher sign language before. He actually learned really fast, so this was an amazing opportunity to actually meet again with him, to meet with him at the halftime show to perform with him. I mean, we weren’t expecting that, but it was a dope experience for me,” Sanchez said.
He added that “last year, it was more of just interpreting. This year, we have more of a performance. There’s dancing and signing, bringing that into one to show that it’s a show, not just me interpreting. So that was different: I’m a Deaf performer, not a Deaf interpreter. I mean, I’ve never seen that before. When Deaf people were looking at me like, ‘Dang, wow, I’ve never seen that before!’ … We need more deaf people like this, to perform for us.”