Amanda Gorman, activist and National Youth Poet Laureate, performed an original poem at the Super Bowl game Sunday. Her poem, “Chorus of the Captains,” celebrated three community leaders who were named honorary Super Bowl captains by the NFL. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, each captain has shown admirable leadership. Pittsburgh-based Marine veteran James Martin volunteers with the Wounded Warrior Project and works with at-risk kids, Los Angeles educator Trimaine Davis goes the extra mile to grant his students accessibility and Tampa ICU nurse manager Suzie Dorner is on the frontlines of the pandemic.
After performing her original poem, “The Hill We Climb," at President Joe Biden's inauguration, Gorman became a viral sensation. On Sunday, she became the first-ever poet to recite a poem at the Super Bowl. Poetry does not typically spring to mind when thinking of a typical Super Bowl performance, but as the poet explained on “The Daily Show,” “These are the moments I strive for in my lifetime, which is to bring poetry into places that we least expect it, so we can fully kind of grapple with the ways in which it can heal us and kind of resurrect us."
This ideal clearly resonates in her poem, as she describes the impact of COVID-19 and the sacrifices that have been made to survive this pandemic. Her words are particularly striking when she speaks of ICU nurse Suzie Dorner. “Her chronicles prove that even in tragedy, hope is possible / She lost her grandmothers to the pandemic / And fights to save other lives in the ICU battle zone,” Gorman said.
Gorman’s description of the pandemic as a battlefield reminds the listener that everyone must keep fighting even though people will face great sacrifice. The line also serves as a heavy reminder of the personal tragedies that have affected everyone during these times and praises the healthcare workers that have been at the forefront of this pandemic. Gorman places great responsibility and honor onto the listener by stating, “Let us walk with these warriors, / Charge on with these champions / And carry forth the call of our captains / We celebrate them by acting / With courage and compassion.”
The weight of these words is particularly relevant to the Super Bowl itself. Over 25,000 people attended the 2021 Super Bowl in person, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical experts have advised people to stay home during the pandemic. While the NFL provided masks and hand sanitizer to all those in attendance, by the looks of panoramic photos, social distancing was not properly enforced and many in-person viewers did not wear their masks correctly. After the Buccaneers won, throngs of maskless fans flooded the streets and sports bars in Tampa — a city where hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to climb and Suzie Dorner is working tirelessly on the frontlines.
Surely, the irony of presenting Gorman’s words honoring COVID heroes and encouraging the public to act with compassion during a possible superspreader event was not lost on the NFL and Super Bowl viewers. Gorman’s poem provided a touching and much-needed reminder of how this pandemic has affected us and how it will continue to impact us if we do not act with humanity and kindness. Her desire to bring poetry to the Super Bowl will give viewers who are unfamiliar with her work a new consciousness of the world and the consequences of their actions. Hopefully, this act of listening and acting with empathy will indeed “heal and resurrect us” amid these difficult times.