This Sunday, 26 students from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 other students died in a mass shooting in December, are scheduled to sing "America the Beautiful" during the Super Bowl pregame show. The performance is already sparking debate — in the New York Times, in the Week, on parenting blogs and football forums — about whether it's appropriate to ask young children recently exposed to tragedy to sing in front of thousands of people live and likely more than 100 million people on television. Now, it's wouldn't be the first time Sandy Hook students have publicly performed since the shootings: Two weeks ago, 21 of them appeared on Good Morning America to sing "Over the Rainbow." But the Super Bowl isn't a morning TV show — it's equal portions game and spectacle, aired between a parade of ads that, this year, will generate around $250 million for CBS. And the NFL confirmed at a press conference this afternoon that the actress Jennifer Hudson will join the students on the field at the Super Dome in New Orleans. All of which has led a lot of people to ask if these kids are being exploited in some way.
The New York Times was among the first to note criticism of the performance. Linking to a football forum hosted by NBC, the Times asked this morning, "The Super Bowl is more than a game; it’s a national event. But is there a touch of exploitation in the move? Maybe even a hint of political commentary?" Commenters on the forum, at the site Pro Football Talk, seem divided on the performance. One said:
This is just disgusting. Hey, let’s exploit these kids and this tragedy for the purposes of ratings and cause pushing. Great idea! It’s really grotesque. [...] Reducing the tragedy to a stunt at a stupid football game.
Another disagreed: "This isn’t about gun control, or democrat vs republicans [sic] this is about how special of a moment this is for these kids that survived this tragedy." A writer at the parenting blog The Stir thought so, too: "It's a national, fun event, and while we have HAD to move on as a country, it also says that we're still grieving. It says the kids are in our hearts and that we haven't forgotten." The writer Sasha Brown-Worsham also argued that the NFL, the football league that sponsors the Super Bowl, has a special connection to the Sandy Hook shooting:
First [the N.F.L.] held a moment of silence before each game in the week after Newtown. Players wore the names of the victims on various articles of their clothing, and there was always an air of sadness and respect. So why wouldn't they have the kids perform at the Super Bowl?
But the Week's Jessica Hullinger suggests that the widespread outrage over journalists interviewing Sandy Hook students on-air ought to extend to the NFL: "Is parading them in front of millions of Americans less than two months after the incident really all that different?"