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Madden NFL 19 scrubs Colin Kaepernick’s name from menu music lyrics

EA apologizes, says misunderstanding with licensing led to goof

Madden NFL 15 - Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers scrambling
Colin Kaepernick in 2014’s Madden NFL 15.
EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Menu music is the parsley of sports video gaming, but Madden NFL 19’s served up quite a spicy dish on its Windows PC launch day when a song referencing Colin Kaepernick had the name blanked out in the game.

Kaepernick, of course, is the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who began demonstrating against police brutality and racial discrimination by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, the last year of his contract with the team. Other players joined him, including last year, when the kneeling controversy intensified and Kaepernick found no team willing to sign him. He has since filed a collusion grievance against the league.

“Big Bank,” featuring 2 Chainz, Big Sean and Nicki Minaj is part of the 31-song “EA Trax” soundtrack that has been a staple of the game for about 15 years. It is heavily censored, as many hip-hop songs in numerous sports video games have been for about a decade. It features this line, by Big Sean: “You boys all cap, I’m more Colin Kaepernick.”

Here’s how it sounds in the official version:

And here’s how it sounds in Madden NFL 19:

A Twitter user (as seen by The Sporting News) pointed out there was a song (“Bars of Soap” featuring Swae Lee, by Mike WiLL Made-It) referencing Kaepernick in last year’s game too, and that was scrubbed out as well.

This is important because Colin Kaepernick appeared in Madden NFL 18, in the game’s free agent pool, even though he went unsigned for the whole season in real life. That would seem to refute an excuse that his name was left out of the song in this year’s game because he’s not covered by the group license that entitles EA Sports to use the name and likeness of every active member of the NFL Players Association. Kaepernick does not appear in the free agent pool in Madden NFL 19. Free agent safety Eric Reid, a player who also knelt during the national anthem last year and remains unsigned this year, is in the free agent pool of Madden NFL 19. (He likewise has filed a collusion grievance against the league.)

If EA has some kind of legal reasoning for scrubbing Kaepernick’s name (whether to avoid litigation even if it would be fair use), it still fairly raises the question of why the company would include this song in the soundtrack in the first place (including for a second straight year).

In 2016, EA Sports ran into a similar controversy over Kaepernick, when a spokesperson said that the new live commentary for Madden NFL 16, now updated weekly, would mention Kaepernick’s protest, and the game later didn’t — likely because the NFL didn’t want it in the game.

We contacted an EA Sports rep to ask what the reason was, in any event, but heard nothing meantime. Madden NFL 19 launched on Windows PC today and begins a 10-hour preview for EA Access subscribers on Xbox One. It launches on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on Aug. 10.

Update (7:30 p.m. ET): Big Sean weighed in on Twitter, blaming the NFL in addition to EA for the removal of Kaepernick’s name, and Kaepernick replied with a thank-you.

Update (8:40 p.m. ET): An Electronic Arts spokesperson told Polygon that the scrubbing of Kaepernick’s name from the lyrics was its responsibility, and not the NFL’s, and that it was done so over a misunderstanding about the rights EA Sports had to use Kaepernick’s name. The representative added that a forthcoming update to Madden NFL 19 will replace the existing version of “Big Bank” with one that includes the reference to Kaepernick. Here’s the full statement from EA:

We made an unfortunate mistake with our Madden NFL soundtrack. Members of our team misunderstood the fact that while we don’t have rights to include Colin Kaepernick in the game, this doesn’t affect soundtracks. We messed up, and the edit should never have happened. We will make it right, with an update to Madden NFL 19 on August 6 that will include the reference again. We meant no disrespect, and we apologize to Colin, to YG and Big Sean, to the NFL, to all of their fans and our players for this mistake.

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