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Supreme Super Bowl Memories: Super Bowl XXXVIII’s “Nipplegate”

The National Football League is celebrating the Golden Anniversary of it’s biggest event as Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers take on Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

Leading up to the big game, The Shadow League has shared some of our most memorable reflections from the event that has become much bigger than football, morphing into an essential piece of the tapestry that defines who we are as an American society.


Super Bowl XXXVIII was a great matchup between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers.   It was the first Super Bowl appearance for Panthers, who had gone 1-15 just two seasons prior, the New England Patriots were making their second trip in three years.

The game was largely a defensive struggle through most of the first half, but a burst of offense late in the second quarter gave New England a 14-10 advantage at the end of the first half. It was shaking up to be a scourcher on the football field. Indeed, some say it was the greatest Super Bowl to date.

However, this Super Bowl’s notoriety is not because of the play on the field, but for the now infamous Nipplegate incident.

The halftime show featured music superstars P. Diddy, Jessica Simpson, Ocean of Soul, Kid Rock Nelly, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. Though the Super Bowl halftime shows history is rooted in American soul music, it had become very much soulless over the years.

This performance was seen as something of a special treat. Many households looked forward to what was certain to be a funky musical experience. It wasn’t all the way black, but it was as black as we were going to get.

Timberlake and Jackson already enjoyed a friendship that some speculated was more than that. She sang background on some of his work and his former group, NSync, was the opening act of her Velvet Rope World Tour. The synergy for a really good live performance was there.

While performing Justins Rock Your Body, they sang the words Im gonna have you naked by the end of this song. If you remember, the entire routine was filled with gyrating hips and suggestive motions.  Right on cue, Timberlake reached up and ripped off part of Jacksons costume to reveal her right breast, which was adorned in nipple jewelry.

The media feeding frenzy gobbled it up across television, radio and Internet, Though it was only less than a second, the reverb could be heard around the world. It became the most widely watched moment in TiVo histiory.

Janet Jackson’s name exploded on search engines and broke records. Youtube founder Jawed Karim said it helped launch his platform.  Though speculation ran wild as to whether or not this was legitimately a malfunction or a publicity stunt gone awry, Janet’s reputation was put through the ringer and she spent a small fortune defending herself.

The FCC bared their fangs in the name of the 143 million viewers who saw the incident live. MTV, CBS, Viacom, Infinity Broadcasting and Clear Channel Communications were all fined by the FCC.  These entities in turn took their proverbial pound of flesh out of Janet’s career.  Her singles and videos were blacklisted across those companies many radio and television stations worldwide. 

Internet provider America Online, who sponsored the halftime show, demanded an immediate refund of the $7.5 million is paid for naming rights.

It was all a ridiculous overreaction. Ten years later, former FCC chairman Michael Powell said the entire thing was overblown and sad. The only person that didn’t catch any flack for the situation was Justin Timberlake, the guy who caused the malfunction in the first place. 

It is supposedly the reason why there is a five-second broadcast delay on live television.  Jackson fought a legal battle with the FCC that lasted for almost a decade. Reacting to conservative concern about moral decay, FCC increased the fine per indecency violation from $27,500 to $325,000 shortly afterward.

Janet was vilified at the time by the moronic conservative voices screaming that she was symbolic of everything wrong with the country. 

The Patriots won that Super Bowl, 32-29, over the Panthers and would go on to craft a dynasty.

Though she is still beloved by fans all over the world, Janet Jackson never regained the lofty heights her career once enjoyed.


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