Free Speech, Lewd Cheerleaders, and a Female Finger: M.I.A.’s Battle With the NFL

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British-Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A. has been involved in a legal battle with the NFL since flipping the bird on national television during her 2012 Super Bowl halftime performance with Madonna. After making the regular apologies for not catching the image quick enough to censor it out, it was revealed last fall that the NFL was going after M.I.A. in court over the performance, when it was reported that the organization was suing the singer for $1.5 million in damages on the grounds that she breached her contract and tarnished the organization’s reputation.

Now, according to court documents obtained by the Hollywood Reporter as well as portions of the documents tweeted by M.I.A., the NFL is seeking an additional $15.1 million in “restitution” for the value of her time on screen in 167 million households during her performance of the song “Give Me All Your Luvin’” with Madonna and rapper Nicki Minaj. The figure is based on what an advertiser would have paid for that screen time during the most-watched event on television.

The NFL has also enlisted the help of the Federal Communications Commission, which up until this point had been silent on the issue, according to a section of a document tweeted by M.I.A. on Monday. The FCC is taking action over 222 complaints received about the 2012 Super Bowl. Those complaints were seen by ESPN under a Freedom of Information Act request. While many of the complaints did relate to M.I.A.’s antics, with one person saying that the singer was “flipping off America and flipping off my family,” many of them also included the increasingly risque commercials that were featured during the game as well.

“The claim for restitution lacks any basis in law, fact, or logic,” say M.I.A.’s response papers, filed on Friday and seen by the Hollywood Reporter. “Continued pursuit of this proceeding is transparently an exercise by the NFL intended solely to bully and make an example of Respondents for daring to challenge NFL.” Her response to the FCC, a small section of which she posted to Twitter, said that it took more than 542,000 complaints over Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction in 2004 for the FCC to get involved.

M.I.A. and her attorney have been defending her by establishing other examples of the NFL’s unwholesomeness, citing famous halftime performances that have had lewd behavior not criticized by the organization, such as Michael Jackson’s genitalia-grabbing and Prince’s guitar-stroking. For her part, M.I.A. has pointed out that a group of teenage cheerleaders from a local high school were commissioned by Madonna to dance in the performance of the song and performed some unmistakeably suggestive dance moves that seem to be less offensive to the NFL than the singer’s finger.

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