Editorial: When national sports and national politics collide

In a world where both upsets and last-minute overthrows in national politics and national sports rival one another in dividing their audience and eliciting shock, Super Bowl LI did not disappoint. The New England Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit in the second half of the game watched by an estimated 111.3 million viewers to beat the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime period to be played in Super Bowl history. What was not shocking about Super Bowl LI, however, is that the many forms of entertainment took a political stand in one way or another.

Within the first few minutes of Fox’s broadcast of the game, a feminist play was made in a riff on “America the Beautiful” as The Schuyler Sisters of the award-winning Broadway musical “Hamilton” insisted that Americans “crown thy good with brotherhood … and sisterhood.” Commercials were peppered with odes to immigrant populations and equality, to the chagrin or respect of many on the internet: Coca-Cola’s multi-language “America the Beautiful;” Airbnb’s campaign of #weaccept; Audi’s feminist call for equal pay for equal work; and Budweiser’s immigrant-focused crowd-favorite Clydesdale horses.

Lady Gaga gave a theatrical performance that was both an open-armed embrace of technology and a firm endorsement of equal rights that used her long record of inclusion and self-acceptance efforts to promote social cohesion and camaraderie.

“The only statements that I’ll be making during the halftime show are the ones that I’ve been consistently making throughout my career. I believe in a passion for inclusion. I believe in the spirit of equality, and that the spirit of this country is one of love and compassion and kindness. My performance will uphold those philosophies,” Gaga said, prior to the Super Bowl.

Though it wasn’t the forceful and defiant anti-police brutality statement made by Beyonce’s Super Bowl show last year, Lady Gaga’s overt messaging of togetherness and unity made the kind of political statement that anybody can get behind. Can anyone fault her for her decision to sing in these fraught and divisive times (although are they ever not)? Her choice to target the positive was unexpected in its mildness, but not in its messaging.

Though many online called for boycotts of the aforementioned companies following their pro-immigration and equal rights messages, it’s undeniable the impact and importance of being able to get at least some portion of 111.3 million people talking about these topical issues. Whether or not every member of the audience agreed with the sentiments is not what the companies set out to do in crafting politically and societally relevant commercials; if their goal was to raise the topic to the forefront of discussion across the nation, they succeeded.

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