On Sunday, tens of millions of people will gather over tortilla chips and cheap beer for America’s annual celebration of traumatic brain injuries and shameless consumerism. Many, no doubt, are hoping Super Bowl LI provides a brief escape from the endless shit storm of political controversy that hasn’t let up since Donald Trump’s inauguration two weeks ago. They’ll be disappointed.
Like seemingly every other aspect of modern life, Super Bowl LI will be dominated by politics. On the field, onstage, on TV, and on the ground in Houston, issues such as immigration, racism, taxes, and sexism will be impossible to avoid. Here’s why:
The Patriots’ devotion to Trump: We’ve covered this at length here, but the short version is that Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft, respectively the quarterback, head coach, and owner of the Patriots, are all big fans of President Trump. That’s why there’s a movement afoot among guilty Pats fans to donate money to progressive causes every time their team makes them cheer.
The halftime show: Even if Lady Gaga doesn’t broach politics during the halftime show, the NFL’s choice of a high-profile Hillary Clinton supporter to headline the performance has already led thousands to sign a petition declaring the league a “leftist propaganda machine.” For her part, Gaga says the halftime show will not make any statements beyond “the ones that I’ve been consistently making throughout my career.” Those include “inclusion” and “equality,” concepts that sound innocent enough, but could make half the country throw their remote at the screen if she advocates for inclusion and equality for the wrong people.
The commercials: Two ads set to air during the Super Bowl have set off sirens for the anti-immigrant crowd in the past week. The first, from Anheuser-Busch InBev, shows Adolphus Busch’s journey to St. Louis from Germany and was meant to convey a message of hope and perseverance. But a little more than week after President Trump banned immigration to the U.S. from seven majority-Muslim countries, it’s bound to piss off a few drunk uncles.
The other immigration-themed ad set to air Sunday comes from the building-materials company 84 Lumber. The spot appears to show a Mexican mother and daughter working their way toward the U.S. border, but ends before they get there. In mid-January, 84 Lumber CEO Michael Brunner said Fox rejected the ad because of its depiction of a border wall, with the network deeming it “too controversial.” Brunner said the ad was re-cut into its current version, which splits the story into two parts, the second of which will be put online Sunday night. If this sounds like a publicity stunt, that’s because it probably is.
Rather than produce another goofy ad like 2014’s “Doberhuahua,” Audi decided this year to step into the debate over the gender pay gap — for which there is no debate — with this sappy spot that’s already received pushback from the MAGA crowd.
The national anthem: Remember the controversy stirred up earlier this season when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem? Don’t expect to see any of that Sunday. But even without overt political displays — something Patriots players Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty did earlier this season when they raised their fists after the song — “The Star-Spangled Banner” is now a potential flashpoint at any gathering where the woke mingle with the sleepy.
The guacamole: Most years, the most important thing to remember when eating your Super Bowl guac is to not stick chips too deep into the bowl and snap them off on the way out. This year, things are different, as the guac you enjoy Sunday could be the last guac of your life. Or at least, the last guac you enjoy before it gets too expensive to make. If the 20 percent import tax that the Trump administration has floated as a way of paying for the President’s border wall becomes a reality, the price of avocados is going to go up so fast you might actually consider making your guac with peas.
The only Muslim in the game: Mohamed Sanu, wide receiver for the Falcons, is the only Muslim playing the Super Bowl. Will Fox broadcasters Joe Buck and Troy Aikman mention that during the game? Should they? Sanu himself was tight-lipped when asked about Trump’s travel ban at Super Bowl media day, saying, “I just pray that us as a country and a world can be united.” He added that it’s “really hard for me to talk about this right now” and didn’t want to say much more.
The protests in Houston: By the time the Super Bowl kicks off, Houston will have seen no fewer than five separate protests if all goes as planned. USA Today reports that groups protesting the travel ban, and Trump generally, are planning to stay visible all weekend and come together outside NRG Stadium on Sunday. Among those planning to participate are members of Black Lives Matter, religious leaders, the local Democratic Party, and anti-circumcision activists.