Remembering the Controversial Johnny Cash ‘Ragged Old Flag’ Ad from Last Year’s Super Bowl

by Charles Craighill

Last year ahead of the Super Bowl between the San Fransisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL debuted an advertisement that sparked controversy around the country. The three and a half minute video named “Tribute to America” features Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” and some patriotic shots. These shots included Medal of Honor recipient, Kyle Carpenter as well as families of 9/11 victims. It also showed different shots of the American flag flown in different situations the song talks about.

Many fans found this to be a touching tribute to Veterans and families of those who died in service. However, others saw it as a direct shot at former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. This advertisement ultimately sparked a debate on social media over the motive behind the ad. It also caused the debate surrounding athletes kneeling during the National Anthem to resurface. This debate felt particularly prudent as the commercial aired moments before Demi Lovato sang the National Anthem at Super Bowl LIV.

Context Behind the Super Bowl Advertisement

This debate over the controversial “Ragged Old Flag” commercial stems from Colin Kaepernick’s protests. These protests began in 2016 when Kaepernick decided to kneel during the National Anthem at a preseason game. He claimed that the act was a protest against racial injustice in America. However, many NFL fans were outraged, believing the protest was unpatriotic and disrespectful.

This created a massive divide in the NFL between those who supported Kaepernick’s cause and those who did not. Ultimately, the decision cost the Super Bowl XLVII quarterback his NFL career. Dozens of players decided to join the quarterback in his protest, but the NFL seemed more focused on their fans. As fans started to boycott the NFL and viewership began to decline, the NFL began to incur fines and penalties for kneeling during the song.

Just this past year, after Black Lives Matter protests spread across the nation, the national anthem protests returned to the forefront in the sports world. For instance, the NBA experienced full team boycotts of playoff games as well as national anthem protests. The NFL had revised its rule regarding the protests already, however, they once again became prominent at the start of the season.

For instance, Super Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Mahomes spent his offseason pushing the NFL to work harder to make a difference. In a video that he posted with Travis Kelce, he spoke about the work the Kansas City Chiefs had done. Overall, the NFL has been responsive to the players’ pleas. Despite the inconsistent viewership, Roger Goodell has supported the players’ protests for the most part. During this year’s Super Bowl, it will be interesting to see what protests and advertisements will look like.