At this year's Super Bowl, Demi Lovato performed the national anthem to open the game. Another woman, Christine Sun Kim, simultaneously performed the anthem 10 yards away from her. The problem was, the vast majority of people who wanted—or needed—to see that second performance didn't get to.
In an op-ed in the New York Times, Christine Sun Kim shared how proud she was to represent the deaf community at the Super Bowl and serve as the ASL (American Sign Language) performer for the national anthem and "America the Beautiful." She also shared how disappointed she was that only the people inside the stadium were able to see her performance. On television and online broadcasts, only few brief seconds of her performance was shown.
"While Fox Sports announced the signed performance of the two songs on Twitter, it did not actually show it," Kim wrote. "On the television broadcast, I was visible for only a few seconds. On what was supposed to be a 'bonus feed' dedicated to my full performance on the Fox Sports website, the cameras cut away to show close-ups of the players roughly midway through each song."
"Why have a sign language performance that is not accessible to anyone who would like to see it?" she added.
It's an excellent question. Sign language is meant to be seen. That's literally the way it works. According to the 2011 American Community Survey, about 11 million people, or 3.6% of the U.S. population, consider themselves deaf or seriously hard-of-hearing. So it's not like only a handful of people were affected by the networks not broadcasting the signing of these songs.
Some might think, "Well, everyone knows the words of the song anyway, what difference does it make for deaf people to see it performed in sign language?" But let's think that through a bit. We all know the words of the song, but we all still tune in to hear it sung anyway. We like to see the anthem performed. We like to experience the skill of the musician, the power of the song, and the emotion in the performance of it.
Christine Sun Kim's sign language performance had all of that for the deaf community to experience. Watch:
Actress Marlee Matlin, who has signed the anthem at the Super Bowl there times, called out the networks for not including the ASL version of the anthem in a split screen or bubble for the entirety of the performance.
As Kim wrote, "It's 2020: We've had the technology to do so for decades. And people noticed."
Kim went on to explain the struggle for media inclusiveness as well as the political and social struggles deaf people face, while also praising the steps that have been taken to provide more closed captioning on programs and interpreters at live events. She shared her hesitation about participating in an NFL event due to various controversies, but also pointed out that the NFL has made great strides in providing access for deaf people for three decades. Ultimately, she was understandably disappointed that people weren't able to see the ASL version of the songs, for the benefit of both deaf and hearing audience members.
"I had hoped to provide a public service for deaf viewers, and believed that my appearance might raise awareness of the systemic barriers and the stigmas attached to our deafness — and move some people to action," she wrote. "I hope that despite the failure of Fox to make the performance accessible to all, it did do that."
Read Kim's entire op-ed here, and watch Kim's performance of "America the Beautiful" as well.