In the United States, watching the Super Bowl is as important to some families as Christmas.
Similarly, in most countries in the world, the World Cup takes precedence and elicits a sense of community, rivalry and ultimately excitement or disappointment, comparable to what is felt watching the final two national football teams go head-to-head in a celebratory setting in the States. Preparations for these events are made months in advance, and 12% of employees plan to call in sick the Monday after the Super Bowl.
However, this year in particular, the Super Bowl has gotten political.
Forget 2017, when Vice President Mike Pence decided to leave an NFL game because of players kneeling to protest racial injustice, because the current news media has already moved past that and is now focused on similarly controversial issues. The National Football League has introduced itself to a variety of media scrutiny including the advancement of the collusion grievance suit filed by player Colin Kaepernick, and most recently their decision to not air part of a press conference before the Super Bowl LIII with Maroon 5, the halftime performer, for fear it would end up centered on politics.
In 2016, when Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel for the “Star-Spangled Banner” in protest of police violence and racial inequality, he incited political warfare between football fans. The left-leaning side openly supported his right to freedom of speech, while the right condemned the fact that he would dare disrespect the American flag in such a way. This is an event that has alienated and angered many sports fans, as the left was likely upset with the way the NFL handled this issue, and both sides were surely angered that politics had infiltrated their dearly beloved sport.
Though the NFL has seemed to put these issues aside despite the advancement of Kaepernick’s case, they have consistently given viewers more and more reasons to stray away from this organization.
Interestingly enough, the National Anthem wasn’t always an integral part of game day. Until WWII, when NFL commissioner Elmer Layden specified the anthem as game day tradition, the song wasn’t played pre-game, and players remained in the locker room instead of on the sidelines. In spite of this, some football fans cannot get past the idea that because Kaepernick dared to protest racial injustice, he was ultimately disrespecting everything that America stands for.
Though for some, watching the Super Bowl is full of camaraderie, healthy debate and buffalo chicken dip, others couldn’t get past the NFL’s history of controversy for the four hours that the game played, and they chose to skip watching the event altogether. Take superstar Rihanna, a Black Lives Matter advocate, for example–the singer posted a video of her unamused face on a flight while passengers in the background argued about whether or not they would be able to watch the big game. The beauty mogul then posted a photo on her Instagram story with the caption: “For those of you who thought I was watchin the Super Bowl…We beefin,” alongside a photo of Colin Kaepernick.
Though some opted to avoid the game altogether, others were uninterested in abandoning their cherished game in support of institutional reform throughout the entire NFL organization. Journalist Dave Schilling writes, “America has a persistent problem with racial inequality that we seem to have no interest in reckoning with.”
Despite this society-consuming controversy, and although Super Bowl LIII was the least watched in a decade, it still garnered 100.7 million viewers. Until the NFL can do what is best for its players by allowing freedom of speech and protest and protecting its team members from being nearly blacklisted from their organization, it appears that the Super Bowl and the NFL as a whole will only lose dedicated fans in future years.