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M.I.A.’s middle finger to the NFL is back in spotlight

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Posted: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 11:22 pm | Updated: 3:17 am, Thu Sep 26, 2013.

Andrew Baldizon didn’t catch M.I.A.’s middle-finger gesture during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2012, but he heard about it and didn’t think much of it.

One month after the Feb. 5, 2012, halftime performance, which nearly 167 million viewers tuned into, the NFL filed a lawsuit against English-Sri Lankan singer M.I.A. for giving the middle finger during her on-stage performance with Madonna.

Almost two years later, M.I.A. decided to make public the issue the NFL has been keeping a secret.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Federal Communications Commission and NBC — the network that aired the show — have not entered any legal proceedings regarding the incident, but the NFL will continue to pursue M.I.A. for tarnishing its “reputation for wholesomeness.”

“I really didn’t think (the middle finger) was a big deal, considering players do it on the field every so often, and the fans do it all the time on TV,” said Baldizon, a 21-year-old UF political science senior.

On Monday, the singer gave a statement through a video on YouTube in response to the NFL’s claims.

M.I.A.’s lawyer was quoted saying the league’s claim of a “wholesome reputation” is pretty funny considering the violence that occurs on and off the field with the players, but UF professor Lyrissa Lidsky said regardless of where the league’s values stand, it’s a simple matter of contract.

“The time to say the NFL is being hypocritical is before you agree to [signing away certain rights],” the Levin College of Law professor said.

Clay Calvert, law professor and director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at UF, agrees.

“Whether or not it hurts the NFL’s image is one thing, but the contract probably forbade her from engaging in these gestures,” he said.

In the video where she addresses the issue, M.I.A. said she’s being used.

“They’ve scapegoated me into figuring out the goalposts on what is offensive in America,” she said.

Lidsky said the NFL might have tried to keep this issue under wraps to avoid drawing negative scrutiny toward the league.

Calvert agreed, saying the NFL might not have wanted to call attention to the issue because “maybe someone giving the middle-finger gesture during halftime seems rather trivial to the public.”

According to the details of the legal proceeding referenced by the Hollywood Reporter, the singer allegedly challenged the arbitration clause in the contract, failed to pay her share of the fine, failed to attend mediation and failed to take responsibility or apologize for her worldwide-broadcasted actions.

Baldizon said he was surprised that the singer was being fined a sum of $1.5 million.

“The NFL usually fines players a couple of thousand [dollars] for the middle finger and sends them on their way,” he said.

A version of this story ran on page 10 on 9/26/2013 under the headline "M.I.A.’s middle finger to the NFL is back in spotlight"

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