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Fans were thrilled to have 3 ASL performers at Super Bowl — but upset over almost no air time

The performances of the three artists who are deaf were mostly omitted from the televised broadcast on February 12.
/ Source: TODAY

Fans were thrilled to learn the 2023 Super Bowl would include performances from three artists who are deaf — but for many, excitement turned to frustration on game day after these performers hardly appeared on screen. 

Colin Denny, a deaf Native American from Arizona’s Navajo Nation, Justina Miles, a Deaflympics champion who has performed at musical shows around the country, and Troy Kotsur, who won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in the 2021 film “CODA," all signed lyrics of songs before and during the game in Glendale, Arizona.

Super Bowl LVII - Previews - Thursday February 9th
Denny, Kotsur and Miles talked the about the inspiration behind their performances in a Feb. 9 press conference.Anthony Behar / PA Images via Getty Images

While fans attending the Super Bowl got to experience the interpreters’ performances in full, viewers who were watching on TV just got a glimpse on broadcast. Fox Sports, who broadcasted the Super Bowl, did stream the pregame and halftime American Sign Language (ASL) performances on their YouTube channel.

Some took to social media to ask the NFL and Fox Sports why the ASL performances weren't broadcasted using “Picture-in-Picture,” or a feature that allows multiple windows to show on one screen. This technique is used in broadcasting to show sign language interpreters in a window layered over the main program, meaning that people who are deaf or hard of hearing can follow along in real time.

“I am once again asking you to please, PLEASE use Picture in Picture to show ASL interpreters at the Super Bowl and all televised events,” one person tweeted. “We have the technology. This. Is. Ridiculous.”

“Please help me educate the #NFL that if they’re going to have 3 Deaf ASL interpreters for the 3 songs sung pregame, to add them in Picture in Picture,” another person wrote.

"45 seconds of the song went by before we saw Troy Kotsur," one user wrote. "Picture in Picture is so easy to do for the love of all things holy. How does this never get better."

In a statement to TODAY Feb. 13, the NFL said they "have worked closely with NAD (National Association of the Deaf) and network partners to offer a separate stream that is easily accessible for members of the deaf community.

"NAD and the NFL are proud of the work we have done to be inclusive and ensure that all songs are signed and all commercials and promos are closed captioned," the statement concluded.

NAD Chief Executive Officer Howard Rosenblum also provided a statement to TODAY Feb. 13, stating that he and ASL producer Alexis Kashar are "very proud" of their collaboration with the NFL to "advance accessibility at the Super Bowl" and that the online streaming option provided a "full view of the ASL renditions" of the pregame and halftime shows.

"We constantly aim to improve and advance, and we think we do that every year with the NFL as we know there is always going to be more growth to accomplish," Rosenblum wrote.

TODAY has reached out to Fox Sports for comment and has not heard back yet.

Before the Super Bowl game began, Denny performed “America the Beautiful” using a mix of ASL and North American Indian Sign Language, according to NAD, alongside the vocals of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.

“It’s such an honor to be here representing the Navajo nation and representing my communities,” Denny said during a Super Bowl halftime show news conference on Feb 9. “You have the deaf, the hearing, and Indigenous communities all over America, and it’s an honor to represent all three of them.” 

Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles
Denny signed "America the Beautiful" before the game.Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Following Denny's performance at the Super Bowl, Kotsur signed the national anthem in ASL, with Chris Stapleton singing the lyrics.

Kotsur talked about the upcoming performance at the Feb. 9 news conference, saying he drew inspiration from Francis Scott Key, whose 1814 poem was used as the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner."

“Seeing that the flag was still there, and the smoke and the fire, and even through it all, the flag had remained, and so it inspired (Francis Scott Key) to write this song,” Kotsur said. “And so, I’m becoming Francis, (putting) myself in his shoes and (telling) it from his perspective.

“I’m going to show you all what I’m seeing, and what he wrote, which was pure poetry, and I’m going to add in my personality as an artist and put it all out there to show you all my work,” he added. “After I read it, I felt even prouder to be an American.”

Troy Kotsur signs the national anthem
Kotsur said he drew inspiration from Francis Scott Key for his performance of the national anthem. Rob Carr / Getty Images

Miles made history during the 2023 Super Bowl, becoming the first woman to perform an ASL version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the Black National Anthem, which was sung by Sheryl Lee Ralph that night.

“That song represents resilience for me,” Miles said at the halftime news conference. “The Black National Anthem is really inspiring and empowering.”

With her performance, Miles said she wanted to “really bring that empowerment to millions and millions of Black deaf people all over the country who have never really seen that before.”

Super Bowl LVII - Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles
Miles signed "Lift Every Voice and Sing" in American Sign Language on the field before the game, and also signed during Rihanna's halftime show.Rob Carr / Getty Images

Miles also signed in ASL during Rihanna’s halftime show, delivering an expressive performance that quickly went viral.

While the performances of Denny, Kotsur and Miles were available to watch online, many fans expressed disappointment that they were mostly absent in the main televised broadcast, and that Kotsur was only shown for a few seconds during the national anthem.

“You have an Oscar winner interpreting the National Anthem, and you can’t give him more than 2 seconds of air time? The Deaf community deserves equal access. Do better next year @NFL,” another person tweeted.

“They couldn’t have had a dedicated camera on #TroyKotsur in a box in the corner rather than just 2 seconds of him?" one person wrote. "So disappointing.”

“Outraged at your disrespect to the deaf community and your guests #ColinDenny and #TroyKotsur,” another user penned. “A mention and a glimpse and out of sight they go! ... A missed opportunity to include deaf people.”