“Politics did not take a break for Super Bowl LI.”
By Alex Benedict
What’s more American than the Super Bowl? Regardless of whether or not they support the teams playing, Americans congregate, eat food, and cheer for men hurling themselves at one another for the common goal of victory. But while these men were embodying everything that is thought to be the ideal American qualities: strength, ability, wealth; companies took it upon themselves to show the viewership of one of the biggest nights in American television that there is significantly more to America than just football.
The belligerent xenophobia and misogyny that seem to be plaguing the nation in recent days have been met by protests, marches, rallies, and, evidently, advertisements geared towards the third of America just eager for another hilarious Doritos commercial.
The most coveted television time slots are on this first Sunday night in February, where more than 111 million people tuned in to watch the New England Patriots take on, and come back to take down, the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime in Super Bowl history. This happened to be a night of more than one first, where a myriad of advertisements, and even Lady Gaga’s halftime performance, were laced with political undertones and calls for American equality and inclusion. Commercials from Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Audi, 84 Lumber, Airbnb and Google, to name a few, attempted to put into perspective the gravity of the political and social climate in America today.
Though these advertisements may have been less controversial and more unifying if premiered at previous Super Bowls, Donald Trump’s new political grip on America has globally-empowered companies promoting equality and inclusion using their television presence.
The fifty-first Super Bowl took place one week after the newest and most polarizing face of the Land of the Free placed a ban on the entry of people from seven Middle Eastern Muslim-majority countries. But a commercial by Coca-Cola, among commercials by other businesses, emphasized the beauty of American unity, composed of the many different ethnicities, races, and religions that make America so incredibly diverse.
The same message was portrayed in a commercial by 84 Lumber, a supplier for construction goods, which criticized President Trump’s border wall plan by depicting a mother and daughter traveling to the United States in pursuit of a better life. It sparked extreme controversy, and Fox, the channel airing the Super Bowl, refused to play the full advertisement.
This strong theme of inclusion echoed through many more ads, including one by Airbnb, which emphasized belonging and acceptance. Another advertisement by Budweiser voiced the message that the xenophobic mindset is an antiquated one, as immigrants are not a detriment to the country, but rather a boon to society.
Though these advertisements may have had good intentions, many took them as otherwise: polarizing and unnecessary. Viewers unleashed on 84 Lumber on all forms of social media, probing the company to quell the outrage over the unintentionally controversial ad. The company’s Facebook account wrote, “President Trump has previously said there should be a ‘big beautiful door in the wall so that people can come into this country legally.’ We couldn’t agree more.” Twitter users responded to the ad by calling customers of the company to cancel their contracts and look for a new construction provider, many claiming that by encouraging the “door in the wall,” the company was encouraging the displacement of the jobs of legal Americans by illegal immigrants, specifically from Mexico.
The Super Bowl, along with other national events that epitomize America, may have positive aspirations of unity, but can end up further driving the country apart. Many Americans look to come together with their fellow Americans, all while the event unintentionally stigmatizes the un-American outsider. Football is America’s sport, America’s pride and joy. Today, this is arguably even more relevant than the sport’s identity as an inclusive, dream-ready image of the past century. But is it also ironic to use this platform of American identity to advertise for the inclusion of everyone when football itself is essentially exclusive to America?
Irony was evidently abundant Super Bowl Sunday in the TV time surrounding the game, especially since what many companies were advocating for is not the way in which the National Football League operates. To use this platform for politically motivated commercials advocating for the equal respect of all people is ignorant to the fact that the NFL itself fails to treat everyone with respect. Or at the very least, the organization fails to condemn its players who fail to treat others with respect. Is it hypocritical for these advertisers to use an organization that fails to stand for the messages that they are portraying?
With that being said, the advertisers during the event do not reflect the culture perpetuated by many players. The NFL has historically been notorious for failing to reprimand its players for domestic violence, illegal firearm possession, DUIs, and more; a poor representation of the league, but not necessarily of its supporters. Football is unquestionably American, even if the actions of some of its players are not a representation of the masses.
However, the companies knew what they were getting themselves into with these advertisements, since after all, by expressing their views through images in this type of venue, they aren’t preaching to the choir. The commercials are attempts to enlighten others to the best of their ability, even it involves utilizing a platform that does not necessarily support the causes at hand. But to be a fan of the game does not mean that you have to be a fan of the culture, of the National Football League, or of this current national administration.
These commercials proved that in order for the Super Bowl to have truly been one of the most American nights of the year, the diverse greatness of America cannot be forgotten.