This Year’s Super Bowl Game: Sure to Be Political

National anthem kneelers will be shown on camera, and left-wing singers will hog the halftime spotlight — prepare for polarization

by Tom Joyce | Updated 12 Jan 2018 at 7:54 AM

Nothing on television each year attracts more eyeballs in the United States than the Super Bowl. Every game this decade has averaged more than 100 million viewers, according to the Nielsen ratings — meaning that roughly a third of the country watches the sports event.

This means the event has the potential to be weaponized — and politicized. Although doing so may ruin the experience for millions of Americans, a politicized Super Bowl may be a reality.

NBC broadcasts the Super Bowl every year, and the network recently announced it will show players kneeling for the national anthem on camera prior to the game. Although Fox News reported that the number of players who protested the anthem during the final week of the regular season dwindled down to just 19, announcing how much attention the players will receive for kneeling ahead of time could be an incentive for even more players to kneel at the Super Bowl.

Sure, it would give said players attention and praise from many leftists, but angering millions of fans could be damaging — even to NBC's brand.

NFL ratings are already plummeting, according to Nielsen. Ratings dropped by 8 percent from 2015 to 2016, and this year, they went down by about 10 percent. Even the number of games the average fan watched dropped from 18.8 in 2015 to 16.5 in 2017.

An Ozy Media survey revealed that 33 percent of NFL fans "purposely stopped watching or attending NFL games this season." The majority said they stopped watching because they supported Donald Trump, a vocal opponent against national anthem kneelers.

Seeing players kneel on television would be a negative optic for the NFL (and NBC) — but it is not the only potential way for the game to be politicized.

Pink is set to sing the national anthem before the big game, and Justin Timberlake will take the stage during the halftime show. A day after Trump was elected in 2016, Pink said on Twitter that the electoral college should make Hillary Clinton president anyway — and she even shared a petition urging the group to do it.

Even as the NFL's popularity has declined, the Super Bowl remains the country's most-watched sporting event by a large margin.

Timberlake was another fervent Clinton supporter — he hosted a fundraiser for the Democratic nominee in August of 2016 and charged $33,400 per ticket to the lunch, which Clinton attended, according to The Daily Mail. The massive audience both these performers will have at the Super Bowl could very well mean they make political statements.

After all, the halftime show went the political route for Beyoncé in 2016 — when she and her background dancers dressed in tribute to the Black Panthers.

Related: Why You Might Be Seeing National Anthem Protests at the Super Bowl

Commercials can also become a point of controversy — some have recently been seen as politically motivated.

Last year, some companies went full "woke" with their commercials; the most blatant was one from 84 Lumber, which seemed to advocate for illegal immigration. There is no reason to believe companies will not do the same this year — especially given President Trump's open feuding with the NFL.

Even as the NFL's popularity has declined, the Super Bowl remains the country's most-watched sporting event by a large margin. However, its viewership from 2015 to 2017 dropped by 3.1 million people (from 114.4 million to 111.3 million). This trend is bound to continue, given the formidable drop in viewership during this past regular season — especially if the league tries to cram even more politics into this upcoming particular game.

Related: 10 Reasons College Football Trumps the NFL

Even fans who continue to support the NFL despite the kneeling protests and political statements may become frustrated if this year's Super Bowl becomes more of a super PAC — as opposed to a good, old-fashioned game of football.

Viewers have the power in a free market to watch or not watch, of course. Although the Super Bowl was once about watching a beloved sport, now it can become a divisive and polarizing event in which the actual game is the last thing anyone talks about the next day. If that winds up being the case this year — and it may well — then perhaps another major sporting event will rise and eclipse football's popularity in the years to come.

Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN, and other outlets. 

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