Fox and the NFL's 'Ragged Old Flag' tribute sparks Colin Kaepernick debate

Even though Colin Kaepernick hasn't played in the NFL for years, his presence was felt throughout Super Bowl LIV as his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, took on the Kansas City Chiefs.

Ahead of Sunday's big game, Fox aired a three-minute "tribute to America" set to Johnny Cash's "Ragged Old Flag" to "remind us we’ve been through tough times before, but as a nation, we’ve always come through it together." The video featured Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter and families of 9/11 victims as various images of the American flag flashed throughout the montage.

In 2017, Kaepernick was released by the Niners after a season of his silent sideline protests. During the national anthem, the quarterback would kneel in an attempt to bring awareness to police brutality and social injustices against people of color. Some found the "tribute to America" to be a "slap in the face" to Kaepernick — one they seem to feel he deserved.

But others trashed Fox and the NFL for the perceived dig.

"I love Johnny Cash & "Ragged Old Flag" & that was a beautiful commercial that just aired on Fox ... but because of the double meaning behind it - it was basically a f*** you to Colin Kaepernick it’s also one of the most inappropriate things I’ve seen broadcast on this stage #NFL," one person wrote.

Still, some people were simply upset that "Ragged Old Flag" was the backdrop. Cash released the spoken word tribute in 1974 after President Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal. According to Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash biography, he wrote the song to "reaffirm faith in the country and the goodness of the American people." While Cash risked his career to speak out for causes he believed in, it led to an online debate over whether he’d want his music to be used in the tribute.

"And Johnny Cash was a champion for JUSTICE. Terrible choice — he'd NEVER endorse this bs," one person claimed. Someone replied, "Did you know him? No you didn't!"

Yahoo Entertainment reached out to a representative for the Cash estate but did not immediately receive a response. However, the tribute was shared from Cash’s official Twitter account — which is managed by the estate — so it’s safe to assume the family approves. Especially since a nearly identical tribute set to Cash's tune aired before the Super Bowl in 2017. A source close to the family tells Yahoo Entertainment the estate participated again this year given the positive response of unity three years ago.

In 2017, Cash’s son called his father "non-political" while condemning a white supremacist group that used a Johnny Cash song on its website.

"The Johnny Cash Trust does all it can to stop the usage of Johnny Cash’s image, music or likeness in conjuncture with any group or organization that believes in separatism and superiority — or political candidates or parties for that matter," country singer-songwriter John Carter told Rolling Stone

"So many use dad’s name, saying ‘Johnny Cash would not like this’ or ‘Johnny Cash would do this’ or ‘Johnny Cash would vote for…’ Please, let his actions speak for who he was: A simple, loving man who never supported hate or bigotry. He was non-political, and a patriot with no public political party affiliation," Carter added.

While people are also debating whether or not the "tribute to America" even has anything to do with Kaepernick at all, it’s clear the NFL is still trying to distance itself from backlash over players’ kneeling protests. PETA, the animal rights organization, claimed the NFL wouldn’t allow its animated Super Bowl commercial that featured animals taking a knee with a message of "End Speciesism."

"The National Football League apparently found our new Colin Kaepernick-inspired ad — with its message of inclusion and respect — too daring and pressured FOX to snub our commercial," PETA posted on its website.

As for Kaepernick, he retweeted the below post:

Stars like Padma Lakshmi and Ava DuVernay made sure he wasn’t forgotten on Sunday.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z — who faced backlash after his company Roc Nation announced its partnership with the NFL — appeared to make a statement of their own while attending the Super Bowl. Neither star stood during Demi Lovato’s rendition of the national anthem.

Watch: Demi Lovato slays Super Bowl national anthem:

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