Every year, I enjoy compiling a list of important political stories that surround the year’s most anticipated and watched sporting event: the Super Bowl.
In previous years, I’ve written these entries prior to kick-off as a “be on the look-out for” type of article (such as 2012’s ads that featured animal cruelty and anti-choice/anti-abortion viewpoints, and 2013’s pre-game team comments on homosexuality). However, I ran out of time before the game in 2014, so I wrote this entry after the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in a rather uncompetitive 43-8 game. It actually came in handy to wait until after the game because several important stories started only after the game was over.
So let’s get started with some of the important political stories surrounding the 2014 Super Bowl:
Racism: Conservatives call Seahawks player a “thug”
When the Seahawks won their way into the Super Bowl by defeating the 49ers in the NFC championship game, their cornerback – Richard Sherman – gave an aggressive post-game interview as FOX Sports’ Erin Andrews held the mic. While this might not seem like a particularly ‘sociopolitical’ event, it quickly became one as conservatives went nuts.
In conservative media (like FOX News), Sherman was described as “thug” over 600 times. It should be noted that he was the #2 student at his high school, and then went to the prestigious Stanford University; he worked his way up from his beginnings in Compton; he is the American dream. Also, Erin Andrews later clarified that she was totally fine with it, and understood that it was just post-game adrenaline, saying “That was so awesome. And I loved it.”
After Sherman’s post-game adrenaline came down, and after all of the conservative backlash, he explained that when conservatives call a black person a ‘thug,’ what they have really done is figured out a socially acceptable way to say the ‘n-word.’ The use of the word ‘thug‘ was prevalent in conservative media to describe Trayvon Martin after he was shot to death by George Zimmerman (who, inexplicably, became a hero to conservative gun-lovers).
Meanwhile, as FOX News was deriding Sherman as a ‘thug,’ they playfully labeled crack-smoking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Justin Beiber the “bad boys of Canada.” On one hand: Ford and Beiber had been accused of authorizing or engaging in assault, and on the other hand: Sherman gave an aggressive interview. It would seem to any rational person that Ford and Beiber were more ‘thuggish’ than Sherman – but they are white, and Sherman is black (and he was talking to a white woman on FOX)… so Sherman is the thug…?
Racism & Homophobia: Multilingual Coca-Cola ad backlash
In an attempt to make up for sponsoring the 2014 Olympic games (held in anti-gay Russia), Coca-Cola ran an ad in which “America the Beautiful” was sung by Americans who spoke languages other than English. The ad was supposed to highlight how accepting Americans are of other cultures, and how we are a true cultural melting pot; even though America is typically thought of as a nation of English-speakers, there a many of us whose cultural background consists of other languages, and we all love America equally. Someone apparently didn’t give conservatives the memo, because their racism was swift and severe.
One of the most prominent conservatives pissed at the ad was professional insane person Glenn Beck, who claimed that Coca-Cola made the ad specifically to make Republicans look bad.
In an “it would be funny if it weren’t sad” moment, those spouting their racism revealed that they are, expectedly, not very smart — many took to Twitter (using the hashtag #fuckcoke) to reveal that they believed that “America the Beautiful” is our national anthem … it is actually the “Star Spangled Banner.”
There was also a backlash from conservatives because it featured a gay couple… they would probably be shocked to learn that the woman who wrote “America the Beautiful” was a lesbian. So there’s that.
This came just weeks after conservatives feigned outrage when the MSNBC Twitter account implied that conservatives tend to be racist: “Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/ biracial family.” MSNBC apologized, and then were proven correct just weeks later.
New Jersey / Governor Chris Christie Bridge Scandal
The Super Bowl seems to have a pattern of being held in locations that are political hotbeds at the time. In a 2012, it was held in Indiana as anti-union Republicans were pushing so-called “right to work” legislation, and they very much would have liked to have done so without the eyes of the nation upon them. In 2013, the Super Bowl was held in New Orleans at a stadium reconstructed and renovated using $470 million of American tax dollars; this was at a time when conservatives were all caught up in their “we built that” hysteria, and claimed that private businesses never received any help from the government. Likewise, 2014’s Super Bowl was held in New Jersey amid Governor Chris Christie’s concurrent “bridge” and “Sandy” scandals.
Back-ups on the mass transit system and outside of Metlife Stadium leading up to the game were criticized on Twitter as “traffic studies,” which was a call-out to the back-ups ordered by Christie’s administration on the George Washington bridge (originally explained as a “traffic study.”) And then Christie was booed at Super Bowl events.
Two days prior to the Super Bowl, key player in the Bridge scandal, David Wildstein, released a letter from his lawyer to the Port Authority in which he accused Christie of lying about not having prior knowledge of the lane closures. Christie’s office responded to the accusations in a message to friends and supporters that Wildstein has been known to be “deceptive” ever since high school, so no one should trust what he says… despite Christie authorizing his hiring at the Port Authority by Bill Baroni, into a job with no job description that required no interview or submission of resume, and which was created specifically for him.
On the same day as the accusation from Wildstein, Christie’s Director of Departmental Relations, Christina Genovese Renna, resigned. She is the one who sent a message to Bridget Kelly during the shutdown to “apologize” for letting a call from Mayor Sakolich get through, which seems to contradict Christie’s claim that neither he nor anyone in his office had ever heard of Mayor Sakolich, and that he wasn’t on Christie’s radar.
Meanwhile, news was breaking that Christie had used $25 million in Federal aid meant for Hurricane Sandy recovery to fund campaign-style “tourism” ads that he inserted himself into ahead of his bid for re-election. It did not help that the story was coming to light as New Jersey was hosting the Super Bowl that they secured by giving the NFL an $8 million tax break.
FOX Sports / News Corp
Ever since 2006, the NFL has given only three television networks the rights to air the Super Bowl: CBS, NBC, and FOX (ABC used to be in the mix, but not anymore). The Super Bowl aired on FOX for the first time in 1997, and has hosted the game more than any of the other networks since then (seven of the 18 years since then have been on FOX; CBS has hosted 5 times, and both NBC and ABC have each had the rights 3 times).
For anyone not yet aware, all TV networks using the name “FOX” (including FOX Sports, FOX Business, every local FOX affiliate, and FOX News) is run by News Corporation, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. In my 2012 entry, I pointed out that News Corp. also owns the Wall Street Journal and many other purely political and conservative media outlets. Whichever network gets the rights to air the Super Bowl in a given year, they make a ton of money; the last time FOX aired the Super Bowl, they raked in $195 million (2011) – that’s a lot of funding that can be distributed News Corp’s non-sports, political operations. In the month after the 2014 Super Bowl, News Corp’s stock rose an average of 2.3 points, reversing a downward trend that turned around a couple days after the game aired.
FOX News: Bill O’Reilly’s pre-game interview of President Obama
It has become a tradition for the President of the United States to give a pre-game interview to the network airing the Super Bowl, but that CBS and NBC typically give the honor to a “straight news” / non-opinion reporter (such as CBS’ Scott Pelley). However, being that FOX Sports is under Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp umbrella, both of their pre-game interviews of President Obama have been conducted by FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly – a partisan “opinion guy” who routinely tells people to “shut up,” and once was deemed so much of a “pathological liar” that it would be pointless to take him to court for defaming the son of a 9/11 victim.
When O’Reilly had the opportunity to interview then-President George W. Bush in 2006, O’Reilly gave the President ample time to respond to questions, and rarely followed up after any of his answers. He later defended his lack of questioning by claiming that you “cannot be confrontational with the president of the United States. You can be direct, but you can’t be disrespectful.”
In O’Reilly’s 2011 Super Bowl interview of President Obama, he interrupting the President 48 times, apparently forgetting that he previously believed “you cannot be confrontational with the president of the United States.” MediaMatters.org described O’Reilly’s technique: “He cut the president off, constantly interjected comments, and redirected the interview midstream. O’Reilly often asked Obama questions that required complicated answers and then jumped in with new ones after giving Obama just a few seconds to answer the first query.”
During his 2014 interview, O’Reilly could have used his unique opportunity to discuss any number of important issues, but instead he fell right back on the FOX News manufactured conspiracies that they’ve been marketing for the past 5 years. Obama called out FOX News’ fact-free, partisan attacks during the interview by saying that debunked conspiracy theories (like Benghazi and the IRS) keep coming up only because FOX News continues to promote them as legitimate stories.
President Obama also pointed out that, despite conservative media painting him as the most liberal President in history, “in a lot of ways Richard Nixon was more liberal than I was.” He added that the political spectrum has shifted rightward, and “what used to be considered ‘sensible’ we now somehow label as ‘liberal,'” citing Social Security benefits and Medicare.
O’Reilly also claimed that Obama never explicitly addresses “black culture” and absent fathers, further claiming that it is O’Reilly’s show that stands up for fixing this problem. President Obama whipped him back, pointing out that he has, in fact, directly addressed this problem repeatedly; MediaMatters.org compiled a list of President Obama’s speeches in which he does so: O’Reilly Forgets To Fact-Check Before Lecturing Obama For Not Addressing Black Issues
Note that, leading up to the Super Bowl, President Obama had angered conservatives by saying that, if he had a son, he would not let him play football due to concerns over concussions.
SodaStream and Oxfam
Scarlet Johannsen was dropped by Oxfam as an ambassador after she starred in SodaStream’s Super Bowl ad. SodaStream is an Israeli company that operates a factory in what Oxfam calls an “illegal” settlement in the West Bank.
Oxfam stated: “Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam global ambassador. Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support. Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”
Johannsen defended her position, saying “I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine… I am happy that light is being shed on this issue in hopes that a greater number of voices will contribute to the conversation of a peaceful two state solution in the near future.”
Just Foreign Policy’s policy director, Robert Naiman, wrote an pro-Oxfam article for the Huffington Post comparing the two positions: “Yes, #ScarJo, There’s a Line Between Israel and Palestine”
This is not the first time SodaStream has made news around the Super Bowl; in last year’s “Political Super Bowl” entry, I pointed out that CBS “bowed to pressure from Coke and Pepsi” by refusing to air a SodaStream ad pointing out that Americans use far too many plastic bottles.
North Carolina Coal Ash Spill
While not directly related to the Super Bowl, it was Super Bowl Sunday that North Carolina experienced a devastating “spill” at one of their coal ash ponds operated by Duke Energy.
Back in 2011, when the Super Bowl was held in Texas, the state’s Attorney General Greg Abbott called the Super Bowl the “single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.” In 2014, Abbott was the Republican candidate for Governor of Texas; his Democratic opponent was Wendy Davis, who famously filibustered the Republican attempt to ban abortions at 20 weeks and implement anti-abortion TRAP laws. (NOTE: Abbott ended up defeating Wendy Davis, and is the governor of Texas at the time of this writing.)
An article at Huffington Post pointed out that “according to Forbes, 10,000 prostitutes were brought to Miami for the Super Bowl in 2010 and 133 underage arrests for prostitution were made in Dallas during the 2011 Super Bowl.”
However, it’s also important to note that large events like the Super Bowl bring a lot of eyes, and “the real crime is happening when no one’s looking and no one cares, not when every media outlet, advocate and cop has its sights set on it,” as pointed out by Rachel Lloyd (founder of GEMS)
Wait, I See Something: “It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.”