The NFL and NBC issued apologies late Sunday after a performer extended her middle finger on camera during the Super Bowl halftime show starring Madonna.
M.I.A., a British singer who was performing alongside Madonna, flipped the bird on air just seconds after a digitized blurring occurred on screen. The performer also may have uttered an expletive on camera, according to various published reports, but it was not clearly heard during the telecast.
The statements issued after the game hinted at some tension between NBC and NFL over who was more responsible for the mishap, with NBC acknowledging its screening technology didn’t work fast enough–but also noting the network left the hiring of M.I.A. to the league.
“The NFL hired the talent and produced the halftime show,” the network said in a statement. “Our system was late to obscure the inappropriate gesture and we apologize to our viewers.”
An NBC spokesman explained that a system in place during the telecast attempted to blur the image but was late by two-third of a second, or 20 frames. He could not identify how many seconds of delay were in place during the broadcast.
The spokesman could not confirm that there was any audible expletive from M.I.A. that was heard on camera.
The NFL issued a statement of its own regretting the incident, but used a far more loaded adjective to describe the on-air gesture. “There was a failure in NBC’s delay system. The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing, and we apologize to our fans,” read the statement.
“Obscene” is a far more dangerous word than “inappropriate” given it borrows from the term the FCC employs in its monitoring of language and imagery used on broadcast TV.
The incident could mean NBC is headed for the kind of controversy CBS found itself in eight years ago as a result of the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” that occurred during the halftime show, when singer Janet Jackson’s nipple was exposed on the air as she performed with Justin Timberlake.
Sources suggested that the NFL didn’t see any sign of M.I.A. making such a gesture during rehearsals preceding the Super Bowl.