The Argument for a Separation of Sports and Politics

After months of seemingly endless political tension in America, football fans looked to the Super Bowl for a break. Fox Broadcasting Company went into its programming with just that in mind. The network aimed to create a sense of unity by taking precautions to avoid anything that could become too politically controversial during the big game.

Just as people expect (or at least hope for) the media to be objective, sports should be neutral when it comes to politics and entertainment. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters, and the entertainers picked to headline the halftime show are more than entitled to their respective political opinions, but should stick to their professions for this one event.

Every year, fans tune in to the Super Bowl not just for the game, but to see some of the best commercials of the year from a wide range of companies. Every year, the best commercials are those that are most outrageous or comedic. Companies know that these premium time slots will gain them the most viewership in the moment; and, if their commercial is noteworthy, they will continue to gain post-game viewership online.

The expensive slots and high viewership mean that companies try very hard to produce a short sketch that could do wonders for their sales. However, in recent years, these commercials have prioritized making a statement over advertising a product.

Last year’s Super Bowl halftime performance drew controversy when Beyonce’s backup dancers dressed as Black Panthers. The performance was criticized for being an anti-cop political statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

According to a report by Entertainment Tonight, the NFL asked halftime show headliner Lady Gaga to avoid making her show political; however, the League has denied this claim.

“Everyone we work with understands this is a moment for families across America and the world to come together for a great experience,” said NFL spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz in a statement. “Lady Gaga understands that and we know she will deliver an incredible performance yet again.” The pop star has not hidden her political opinions over the past election, and is very vocal about her opinions through her music.

Lady Gaga granted the NFL’s wishes and put on an extremely impressive performance without being explicitly political. The 13-minute show was entertaining and stuck to the NFL and Fox’s overall goal of unity. While some critics will say her show was subtly political, most of the discussion following her performance was lighthearted.

The more controversial aspect of this year’s Super Bowl was what happened during commercial breaks. Particularly, one advertisement by 84 Lumber – a little-known lumber company making its Super Bowl ad debut – needed to be shortened in order to seem less controversial.

The original ad, shown below, features a mother and daughter attempting to cross a border – presumably the Mexican-American border. The ad ends with the pair approaching a wall with a wooden door that allows them in. 84 Lumber’s president and owner, Maggie Hardy Magerko, denied that the ad was meant to be political, and instead insisted that it was meant to recruit employees.

In order for the commercial to be aired on Fox, 84 Lumber was instructed to cut the ad before the pair reaches the wall. Instead, viewers were instructed to visit 84 Lumber’s website to see the conclusion of the journey. Immediately after it aired, the website crashed from an overflow of viewers. To date, the full commercial has over 10 million views on Youtube. The company is still airing the 90-second approved clip of the commercial in the week following the Super Bowl. At the end of the 90-second clip, “See the conclusion at” is flashed on the screen.

The NFL and Fox Broadcasting Company reserve the right to review and reject any advertisements for the game. Fox’s advertising guidelines specify that the company will not sell commercial time “for viewpoint or advocacy of controversial issues,” and therefore uses that to filter proposed ads before they are aired.

Today’s political climate is so tense and people are so divided that it is nearly impossible to avoid politics. The Super Bowl is one day of the year that unites millions of people to watch a sport, and should not be a platform for more political protest. With such a large audience, it is extremely tempting to capitalize on the situation to get a message across.

Several other commercials that aired had political undertones, including an ad by Budweiser titled “Born the Hard Way,” featuring the brand’s co-founder emigrating from Germany to America in the 1800s. These ads received mixed audience reactions. Some audience members want the Super Bowl to be political, while others just want to watch the game.

Many of the politically charged ads that were broadcasted this year were very powerful, but the Super Bowl was not the place for them to make their debut.

Fox and the NFL were smart to push for a message of unity over political debate, and while the overall game night was not overly political, there was an overwhelmingly somber feeling from past Super Bowls, especially in terms of commercials.

Moving forward, we should embrace the few annual events that are not overwhelmingly political (yet). People need a break from the emotional and stressful political climate that has been created by both sides of the political spectrum, and a message of unity is much stronger than any one artist’s or company’s manipulation of a captive audience to voice their political position.

Since this very large audience is extremely diverse, the best position for both the NFL and Fox as a broadcasting company was to try to remain objective and promote unity, even for just one night.

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