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Better half

Shocking Super Bowl duet reveals sports and entertainment don't mix

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B. Duane Cross

So this is how far Janet Jackson's career has plummeted -- playing the part of an "unwitting" boob? And let's be honest here: It was staged, whether anyone wants to admit it.

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  • Yeah, yeah, great Super Bowl. Now let's get down to the topic everyone is really talking about after Sunday's telecast: The Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake halftime, uh, incident. We know that celebrities perform at Super Bowl intermissions because the huge television audience allows for maximum exposure, but we're guessing Jackson got more exposure than she bargained for.

    In case you missed it -- and aren't you kicking yourself now for watching the Lingerie Bowl at halftime? -- Jackson and Timberlake were singing a duet of Rock Your Body when Timberlake rocked Jackson's body in a way that shocked everyone, including the two performers. Near the end of the song Timberlake swiped at the top of Jackson's leather gladiator outfit and came away with a handful of, well, leather gladiator outfit, leaving Jackson's right breast momentarily uncovered. For Jackson, the bad news is that hundreds of millions of people have now seen her partially nude. The good news is that not all of them have TiVo.

    In households across the world, in countless different languages, the conversation undoubtedly went something like this: "Did he just... That wasn't her... For a second I thought... I could have sworn that was her... Honey, no more beer for me."

    Supposedly it was an unintentional flash (though Timberlake sure looked as if he knew what he was doing). Both singers appeared stunned for a second, but in a still photo taken a moment after the TV camera had quickly cut away, an angry Jackson looked like she wanted to lay a Rodney Harrison-style clothesline tackle on Timberlake. CBS -- whose corporate cousin, MTV, produced the halftime show -- and the NFL were almost as mortified as Jackson. A network spokeswoman said that "CBS deeply regrets the incident," and the league shook a disapproving finger. "We were extremely disappointed by elements of the MTV-produced halftime show," said Joe Browne, NFL executive vice president. "They were totally inconsistent with assurances our office was given about the content of the show. It's unlikely that MTV will produce another Super Bowl halftime."

    To all the embarrassed parties, we can only say, What did you expect? An event like Sunday's was the inevitable result of the insistence on mixing sports and entertainment, a marriage that ought to be annulled immediately. Professional sports leagues apparently think that associating with singers and actors broadens their appeal, but it doesn't. It just makes the games seem cheesy. We don't want some rapper and the guy from Ed playing hoops on the NBA's All-Star weekend. We don't want Trista from The Bachelorette playing center field in some celebrity softball contest at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. We don't want endless shots of Jack at Lakers games or Spike at Knicks games.

    We certainly don't need Aerosmith or Britney Spears or Bon Jovi to trick up the games with mini-concerts before, during or after the action. Every act inevitably tries to top the one before it, and before long something like Sunday happens, making fans wonder if they're watching the Super Bowl or Sex and the City. If we want to see actors, we'll go to a theater. If we want to hear music, we'll buy a CD. The Lakers and Mavericks don't play each other during intermission at a Nelly concert, do they?

    If it were up to us, we'd permit professional singers to do the national anthem only, to allow for the occasional inspired performance like Marvin Gaye's at the NBA All-Star Game back in the '80s. Otherwise, the celebs can have a seat and enjoy the game just like the rest of us.

    Leave the halftimes to high school marching bands and dogs who catch flying Frisbees, just like the old days. That will give us time to do the things that have to be done during intermission, like hit the restroom, refill the nacho bowl and put out the grease fire the kids started in the kitchen while we totally ignored them during the first half. Keep the celebs out of our Super Bowls and we won't be tempted to stay glued to the couch during halftime, which, as we discovered on Sunday, can leave everyone feeling like a boob.

    Sports Illustrated senior writer Phil Taylor writes about a Hot Button topic every Monday on SI.com.