Gladys Knight kicked off Super Bowl LIII on Sunday with a rousing performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Wearing an all-white outfit, the eight-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer belted out the national anthem for the sold-out crowd despite the persistent criticism of performers who participated at this year’s event.

Knight spoke ahead of the game about accepting the Super Bowl gig in the midst of the controversy surrounding quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial injustice. He hasn’t been signed to a team since. In a statement to EW, Knight said that she hoped her singing “The Star Spangled Banner” would be a way to help unite viewers.

“I understand that Mr. Kaepernick is protesting two things and they are police violence and injustice. It is unfortunate that our National Anthem has been dragged into this debate when the distinctive senses of the National Anthem and fighting for justice should each stand alone. I am here today and on Sunday, Feb. 3 to give the Anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words, the way it unites us when we hear it and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life, from walking back hallways, from marching with our social leaders, from using my voice for good — I have been in the forefront of this battle longer than most of those voicing their opinions to win the right to sing our country’s Anthem on a stage as large as the Super Bowl LIII. No matter who chooses to deflect with this narrative and continue to mix these two in the same message, it is not so and cannot be made so by anyone speaking it. I pray that this National Anthem will bring us all together in a way never before witnessed and we can move forward and untangle these truths which mean so much to all of us.”

Kaepernick also looms large in the minds of this Super Bowl’s halftime performers. The show will be performed by Maroon 5, along with rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi (the latter an Atlanta native like Knight). In response to the controversy surrounding the performance, Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine told Entertainment Tonight, “No one thought about [playing the halftime show] more than I did,” he says. “No one put more thought and love into this than I did…. I spoke to many people, most importantly though, I silenced all the noise and listened to myself, and made my decision about how I felt.”

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