Feb 9, 2024 - Sports

Super Bowl broadcasts have mixed history of screen time for sign language performers

Share of time an ASL performer was televised during  a Super Bowl national anthem
Data: Axios research; Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

Throughout the 32 national anthem performances at the Super Bowl since 1992, most ASL performers appeared on screen for 8% or less of the broadcasted song, according to an Axios analysis.

Why it matters: For the more than 40 million people who have trouble hearing in the U.S., ASL performance is a vital tool for understanding songs, and it's an art form audiences of all abilities can appreciate.

Details: Axios' analysis included ASL performers only when their signing could be clearly seen and while the singer was singing.

  • The majority of ASL performers were nationally televised for seven seconds or less of the song.

Flashback: Over the years, Super Bowl pre-game ASL performers and fans have publicly voiced frustration with the lack of air time.

  • In 2012, Rachel Mazique's ASL performance wasn't broadcast, prompting over 9,100 people to sign an online petition decrying NBC's and NFL's actions.
  • After Fox Sports broadcast only three seconds of artist Christine Sun Kim's 2020 signing, she wrote an NYT Op-Ed denouncing the network's decision, and protested the dehumanization of Deaf culture and police brutality against deaf people.

Yes, but: A spokesperson for CBS Sports told Axios: "We are setting up a dedicated landing page on CBS sports.com for the live stream with [the ASL performers] doing the three songs: Lift Every Voice, America the Beautiful and The Star-Spangled Banner," like CBS did for the 2021 Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida.

  • Anna Isaacson, NFL's SVP of Social Responsibility, told Axios via email that ASL performers "have become an integral part of the Super Bowl, and we look forward to continuing to showcase diverse representation during this highly visible moment and throughout every aspect of the league."
  • Since 2010, NFL has partnered with the National Association of the Deaf to choose deaf and hard-of-hearing ASL performers for the Super Bowl.

Reality check: Networks have the technology to show ASL performers and singers on the same screen.

  • Over 30 years ago, Marlee Matlin appeared during the entire broadcast of the Super Bowl XXVII national anthem, signing on the same stage as Garth Brooks.
  • Only one other Super Bowl broadcast since has shown an ASL performer during the full length of the national anthem.

The intrigue: For the first time in NFL history, Super Bowl LVI in 2022 had ASL artists during the halftime show. The next year, performer Justina Miles nearly stole the spotlight from Rihanna.

What we're watching: Deaf artists Daniel Durant, Anjel Piñero and Shaheem Sanchez will perform during this year's Super Bowl LVIII's pregame songs. Sanchez will also perform the ASL Halftime Show.

  • Alexis Kashar, founder of the ASL-inspired jewelry and clothing collection LOVE SIGN, and Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, will produce the ASL performances.

Go deeper: Sign language's struggle for support

Go deeper