Super Bowl season is like the holidays – a celebration shared by people more accustomed to arguing than sitting down together. As one of the few transpartisan, mass media events left to our tribal culture, the biggest TV night of the year can’t help but channel the political tensions most of us endure all year long.
This year, pop superstar Rihanna turned town the Super Bowl halftime show, citing the NFL’s crackdown on protests against racial discrimination. For the same reason, comedian Amy Schumer publicly swore off doing any commercials.
Meanwhile, advertisers fret that running any ads at all could be read as a statement one way or the other. (Last year, Budweiser faced boycott calls for an ad merely mentioning that one of its founders was an immigrant.)
It’s a normal thing to want a break from arguing. But in a politicized environment, even shutting up is a political act.
In fact, professional football has been deeply politicized for years. Maybe you didn’t notice before Colin Kaepernick took a knee, but the fact that one guy on one knee sparked a national firestorm highlights the politics of the stage he acted on.
It wasn’t until 2009, for example, that NFL players were even required to leave the locker room for the national anthem, much less stand for it.
That year, the Pentagon was gearing up for a major troop surge in the Afghan war, which even 10 years ago was already old, unpopular, and largely forgotten. It needed recruits, and it needed a compliant public.