How the Super Bowl Became a Battle for America’s Soul

By Kenrya Rankin Feb 06, 2017

Yesterday (February 5), the New England Patriots came back from an unprecedented deficit to win the biggest football game of the year against the Atlanta Falcons. In a new year rife with anti-POC, anti-immigrant, anti-woman and anti-Muslim actions from the highest office in the land, it only made sense that the battle for the nation’s soul would spill onto the field at Houston’s NRG Stadium. From late-night jokes to song choices to commercials, here are the subtle—and not-so subtle—roles race, xenophobia and Islamophobia played in Super Bowl LI.

The Joke Heard Round the Country
On Saturday’s (February episode of "Saturday Night Live, Weekend Update co-host Michael Che said what many Black Americans have been saying since they learned which teams were competing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy: “I just want to relax, turn my brain off and watch the Blackest city in America beat the most racist city I’ve ever been to.”

Even folks who don’t follow football were tuned into the perceived stakes:


The Patriotic Opener
The game then opened with a song the actresses of color who originated the roles of the Schuyler Sisters in “Hamilton,” a Broadway musical that touts the power of immigrants and the importance of rising up against an oppressive leader. Jasmine Cephas Jones, René Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo decided to add two words to “America the Beautiful” to make it more inclusive: “And sisterhood.”


The Subversive Commercials
You know the country is in disarray when the world’s largest brands used the priciest ad slots of the year to make a point. Coca-Cola re-aired an especially relevant 2014 commercial that posited that immigration and inclusion are what make America beautiful:


And AirBnB’s “We Accept,” ad explicitly addressed the importance of being accepting of all races, religions and sexual orientations.

Budweiser’s “Born the Hard Way” ad, which prompted the hashtag #BoycottBudweiser (and the less accurately spelled #BoycottBudwiser) from conservatives, reminded viewers that White Americans who oppose immigration are the descendants of people who came to this country for a better life.

It’s a 10 Hair Care’s commercial was slightly less direct in its condemnation of the current political climate and attendant hate, but way funnier:

Lady Gaga’s Ode to Inclusion
The halftime performer opened her set with a rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” which The Washington Post reminds readers began as a protest song and has figured prominently in some of the past week’s airport actions in support of detained immigrants.


The Crushing Defeat
The Atlanta Falcons gave away an 18-point lead at the start of the second half to lose the game in overtime. If Twitter is any evidence, many people noted Tom Brady’s support of President Trump and felt a sickening sense of deja vu at the team’s loss.


The ‘I’m Straight on That,’ Moment
Martellus Bennett might be a part of the winning team, but it appears that he is not at all interested in visiting the White  House with his teammates. Bennett is a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, and voted for Hillary Clinton for president.