The Politicization of the Super Bowl

The Presidential election was a gift to news networks this year, which Fox News proved by bumping ESPN out of the top spot for most watched cable news network. Sports and politics share a language according to the BBC, and this the bubbling post-election atmosphere is impacting Super Bowl 51.

The theme of Lady Gaga’s performance was inclusivity, a theme that was central to this election. Candidates and citizens questioned whose opinions needed to be heard and whose had taken center stage for far too long.

“This performance is for everyone,” she said in a press conference on Feb. 2. “I want to, more than anything, create a moment that everyone that’s watching will never forget.”

The sentiment was underscored by Lady Gaga during a radio interview, where she stated that the show is not about Trump.

“Saying anything divisive is only going to make things worse and that’s just not what I want for our country,” Gaga said in an interview with 98.5 KLUC.

Some fans wanted Gaga to use her platform to speak against Trump, while others hoped a political message wouldn’t spoil the Super Bowl.

Politicization of the Super Bowl seems to be a trend that started with Super Bowl 50. In 2015, Beyonce was criticized for her surprise Black Panthers-inspired “Formation” performance. After the performance, #boycottbeyonce made its appearance on Twitter alongside tweets using #bluelivesmatter.  

Soon after Super Bowl 50, A sheriff from Chattanooga, TN linked Beyonce’s “anti-police” performance to the death of seven deputies.

“With everything that happened since the Super Bowl… that’s what I’m thinking: here’s another target on law enforcement,” he said. “You have Beyoncé’s video and that’s kind of bled over into other things, it seems.”

The promotional stunt for Beyonce’s Formation World Tour brought politics to a turf previously reserved for dancing sharks and flipping birds.

The Super Bowl’s large audience makes it a unique messaging opportunity. 30-second advertising spots sold for $4.5 million in 2015 according to USA Today. Upwards of 100 million viewers were anticipated to tune in this year.

The controversy even spills over into the commercial breaks. Budweiser, infamous for its ads, follows Adolphus Busch as he travels from Germany to St. Louis to meet Eberhard Anheuser, the other future founder of the brewery. Harmless traveler’s tale or a story about the power of immigrants to make great products?

In a 2015 ad for Focus on the Family, a Christian family support website, former football player Tim Tebow’s mom alluded to the time a doctor suggested abortion as an option for her. Tim Tebow appeared halfway through the ad, indirectly connecting the NFL and a controversial social issue.

The number of eyes attached to the Super Bowl make it a tempting platform and its diverse audience means risky commercials can be wildly successful.  However, damaging blowback always remains a risk. Given the political environment, it is difficult to separate the spheres of life when they all seem so interconnected. America’s values are shifting, and the residual cracks are expanding into sports.

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