What you will see during Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast: A commercial from Budweiser about co-founder Adolphus Busch’s journey to St. Louis from his native Germany and hostility he encountered in America for being an immigrant.
What you won’t see during Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast: A commercial from the 84 Lumber building supply company that depicted its desire to hire hardworking employees by showing a crowd of people trapped behind a border wall. Fox, which is carrying the game, rejected the spot as too controversial, and 84 Lumber reworked the spot.
And so politics once again descends on the Super Bowl.
Given the tenor of the times, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that politics would intrude on the most-watched sports event of the year — even though the NFL is the most sanitized of professional sports leagues. This is an organization that assiduously tries to avoid alienating its fans.
Earlier this week, the league posted transcripts of interviews that hundreds of reporters conducted with members of the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, and the word “Trump” reportedly was absent — despite the fact that players and coaches were asked repeatedly what they thought of President Donald Trump and his divisive immigration policies.
The questions were inevitable. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are friends of Trump. Falcons owner and Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank is a Trump critic.
And the league, despite its best efforts, has been unable to keep politics at bay. This season began with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the pre-game national anthem as a way to protest police brutality, an act replicated by several other players. Last year’s Super Bowl halftime show featured singer Beyonce’s own stealth protest via her song “Formation,” which referenced police brutality, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.
Now the focus is on this year’s halftime performer, Lady Gaga, no stranger to controversy or political statements. An outspoken Hillary Clinton supporter, Gaga sang at Clinton’s final rally in North Carolina and stood on a sanitation truck in New York City on election night holding a “Love Trumps Hate” sign after the results were announced.
Her fans want her to continue the protest. The NFL and Gaga have denied published reports that the league told her to stay away from political commentary and avoid mentioning Trump. After Gaga talked earlier this week about her fond memories of other halftime shows she’s watched and her passion for “inclusion,” oddsmakers dropped their odds on her making a scene. But it’s hard to imagine she won’t do something, even if it’s subtle, though subtle hasn’t exactly been her thing.
If Gaga does riff on Trump, Vice President Mike Pence apparently will be in Houston to see it. He’s a veteran of handling in-person artistic pushback (the cast of “Hamilton”). Before the game, Fox conservative icon Bill O’Reilly will do an interview with Trump, an echo of two pre-Super Bowl sit-downs he did with former President Barack Obama. So there won’t be any getting around it — there will be plenty of reality intruding before and possibly during America’s greatest sporting escape.
Trump himself touched on the Super Bowl Friday morning as part of what has become an almost daily riff: commenting on television ratings of some kind. Trump said happily that “politics has become a much bigger subject than the Super Bowl.”
He got that right.
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