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The Super Bowl Commercials: Should Sports and Politics Be Separate?

Many people seem to be of the opinion that politics should be kept completely separate from sports and sporting events, so naturally there was some outrage from the conservative Republican side of the political spectrum, particularly Trump supporters, when the Super Bowl LI advertisements got a little political. Here I will look quickly into the content of three advertisements that caused the most controversy: Budweiser, Coca Cola, and Airbnb.

Budweiser, famous not only for beer but also for the Clydesdale horses used in many of marketing campaigns, bought air time this Super Bowl LI to display a short advertisement depicting how their beer came to be. The advertisement was called  “Born the Hard Way,” and showed the journey of a German immigrant, Adolphus Busch, legally coming to America to pursue his dream of brewing beer. The one-minute ad shows the xenophobia he is met with when he comes to America, by showing people shouting at him, saying “You don’t look like you’re from around here…” and “You’re not wanted here, go back home…” The main message seems to be one of perseverance, detailing Busch’s dedication to pursuing the American dream, and his refusal to give in to xenophobic sentiment, or really to any obstacle that he faces on his quest to brew beer. The ad ends with the Budweiser logo, and the words “When nothing stops your dream, this is the beer we drink.” People quickly took to Twitter and other platforms to express their disgust at such a pro-immigration ad, calling it anti-Trump propaganda. Budweiser stated that this ad had been in the works for a while, and that it was not a comment on the current political climate. This may be true, but most people seemed to feel otherwise. Some people even called for a boycott of the beer on twitter, but unfortunately in their haste to condemn this ad, they misspelled their hash tag, so it read “#BoycottBudwiser,” while in fact the beer is spelled Budweiser. It did not take long for people to point out this hilarious error, and when a correctly spelled hash tag was finally formed, the damage to their ‘cause’ was already done. Personally, I find it interesting that they object to an advertisement depicting legal immigration, and a person pursuing the American dream, and next time I would advise critics to check the spelling of the company they want to boycott, to avoid detracting from their questionable cause.

Coca-Cola brought back a commercial that was originally aired in 2014, and garnered the same controversy in 2017 as it did before. The advertisement consists of different people singing “America the Beautiful”, which seems like it would not cause objection, but it is sung in multiple languages-not just English. This advertisement wonderfully encompasses the fact that America is not just people who worship the same god or goddess, who are not all white, and that there is not one ‘look’ to America, because we are a beautiful nation and our diversity is what makes us strong. This advertisement also drew out some of the nastier, xenophobic sides of America, revealed in tweets back in 2014 like “WTF, America the Beautiful being sung in different languages in a Super Bowl commercial? We speak english here, idiots.” The song is sung by switching languages every verse, including Spanish, Keres, Tagalog, Hindi, Senegalese French, Hebrew, and of course, English. All of the singers are bilingual Americans. The ad depicts some of the many looks of America, including a man in a cowboy hat, women in hijabs, and a same sex couple. One Twitter user replied to when the commercial first aired in 2014, saying “Nice to see that coke likes to sing an AMERICAN song in the terrorist’s language. Way to go Coke. You can leave America.” Thankfully though, many others chose instead to comment that America is a diverse a melting pot, and that this is our strength, not a weakness. Besides the right wing media, and a collection of xenophobic Twitter users, the reaction has been mainly positive after the airing during Super Bowl LI. Overall, people seem to understand that there is no one way to be American, that many Americans are bilingual and will use all types of languages here as well. BreitbartNews’ may have something else to say, but if you are at all aware of them, you will also know their content tends to be alt-right promoting, sexist, misogynistic, and xenophobic all of the time, and they surely wouldn’t let us down this time!

Lastly, Airbnb’s one minute long commercial, arguably the most simplistic of all, caused controversy. The well-known travel network company has not been shy when confronting President Trump, and his policies. Specifically, Airbnb’s CEO, Brian Chesky already tweeted out a pledge saying they would be “providing free housing to refugees and anyone not allowed in the US,” so their Super Bowl 2017 commercial was not a new stance for the company. The commercial was very critical of Trump’s immigration ban, leaving the viewer with the basic message of acceptance for all. This powerful commercial shows close-up photos of a diverse group of people, their faces being shown half and half, with messages written overtop. The messages read, “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.” The conservative side of Twitter was quick to jump all over this, tweeting things like “We DON’T accept companies that support flooding our country with terrorists! #MAGA,” and many other tweets of that nature. Overall the sentiment from the conservative right was similar, complaining about the push by Airbnb to accept people they deem terrorists, due to their faith or the color of their skin. Who knew a commercial just telling us to be compassionate human beings could be received so badly from Americans…

Overall, I think this idea of keeping politics out of certain avenues of life is hilariously stupid. Why should you be allowed to watch your Super Bowl, your soccer match, or your hockey game without being reminded of the issues facing America? These issues do not magically cease to exist during televised sports events, no matter how much we may want them to, so why should the athletes making up these games be apolitical? Take for example Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who refused to stand for the national anthem in order to protest racial discrimination, stating “I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Instantly Kaepernick was met with extreme criticism and found himself to be a part of a major controversy regarding the political side of athletes, and the perceived disrespect to our troops. From Kaepernick, all the way back to boxer Muhammad Ali who refused to be drafted for the war in Vietnam and the Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos who held their fists in the air for the Black Power salute during the playing of the national anthem. Here’s the thing: these athletes are real people, with real lives, and real political beliefs, so why should we expect complete silence from them regarding politics during their sporting events? The country has a pervasive issue of inequality, and people are doing the right thing by pointing this out, and standing up-or in some cases not. The idea that people should be able to ‘take a break’ from politics is rooted in the fundamental idea that people are not being severely impacted by political issues, that people are not losing their lives due to racial discrimination, that women and women of color in particular are not subject to the wage gap, and that we should not criticize leadership, in particular the president, unless we are a member of the government. If you are able to take time off from politics, to take a break, or to just not care too deeply, it is simply because you are privileged enough to do so, and your existence, your family, or your quality of life does not depend on your active voice and participation.

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