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Insights: Super Bowl Sunday turns into a political football against Trump

Author: Peter Marcus - February 10, 2017 - Updated: February 4, 2018

If you were hoping to tune out politics by tuning into Super Bowl Sunday, then you turned to the wrong place.

Viewers were bombarded by commercials seeking to capitalize on the civil unrest stemming from controversial and brash decisions by the Trump administration.

The move by corporate America to weigh into the ongoing debates seemed to start before the Super Bowl when Uber and Lyft engaged in a race to the moral high ground.

Uber was accused of breaking picket lines connected to nationwide protests at airports. That criticism extended to protests at Denver International Airport. The protests were in response to executive orders by President Trump temporarily suspending immigration to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries and offering a sweeping prohibition of refugees entering the country.

Competitor Lyft took advantage of the bad publicity against Uber, telling its customers that it wholeheartedly opposes Trump’s directives. The company put its money where its mouth is, donating $1 million over the next four years to the ACLU to fight any unconstitutional actions by Trump.

Uber was compelled to issue a statement largely blasting Trump’s directives. The company is working on a process to identify impacted drivers and compensate them pro bono over the course of the temporary orders. Its chief executive, Travis Kalanick, backed out of sitting on Trump’s business advisory council in the aftermath of the uproar.

Overall, there has been a surge in donations to humanitarian groups and those who defend them in the wake of Trump assuming the Oval Office.

Many commercials during the Super Bowl, which cost a whopping $5 million for a 30-second ad, focused on inclusiveness in the wake of orders that many feel divide and segregate people.

Budweiser ran an ad that showed Adolphus Busch’s journey to the United States from Germany in the 1850s and the discrimination he overcame on his way to success. It was a story of how immigrants shaped the fabric of America.

Coca-Cola aired an older ad depicting Americans of many ethnicities signing a version of “America the Beautiful.”

Airbnb ran a spot that displayed the message, “The world is more beautiful the more you accept.”

Audi advocated for equal pay for women. And 84 Lumber highlighted a Spanish-speaking mother and daughter making their way to the United States.
The reaction to the ads was enormous, with topics trending on social media. Some criticized the companies, but many applauded them for entering the fray.

Some feared that Lady Gaga would turn the game itself political during her halftime show in Houston.

“I believe in a passion for inclusion. I believe in the spirit of equality and the spirit of this country as one of love, and compassion, and kindness,” Gaga said during a press conference ahead of her performance. “My performance will uphold those philosophies.”

While Gaga opened her performance by singing lines from “God Bless America” and “This Land Is Your Land” and announced we are “one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all,” she did not use the massive platform to make overt political statements during her routine.

But that didn’t stop people on social media from turning the contest between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons into a political competition. Many made it a referendum on the recent election, with the Patriots falling in Trump’s camp and the Falcons falling in the anti-Trump squad.

With Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft all having relationships with Trump, people found it hard to disconnect the team from the administration. Brady in 2015 drew fire for placing a red Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker.

Meanwhile, Atlanta has been called a “black mecca,” and it was a hotbed of the civil rights movement, birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the aftermath of Trump’s presidency, civil rights debates have taken centerstage.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank trolled Kraft ahead of the Super Bowl about his close relationship with Trump. When asked the most famous person in their phones, Blank answered, Kenny Chesney, and then pointed to Kraft and said, “Donald Trump over here.”

After the Patriots secured a stunning comeback win over the Falcons, esteemed political analyst Nate Silver tweeted, “At least the Falcons won the popular vote,” a quip referring to the fact that Trump won the election, despite Democrat Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote.

Drummer and frontman of the Grammy Award-winning band The Roots, Questlove, tweeted after the game, “This is how I felt on election night. #SuperBowl.”

How people reacted to the Patriots win appeared in many cases to revolve around where their support for Trump stood.

“2017 IS THE YEAR OF THE PATRIOTS, FIRST DONALD J TRUMP AND NOW TOM BRADY WHO’S NEXT????? #SuperBowl #TomBrady #MAGA” read one tweet following the game.

“Patriots won on November 8th, 2016. Patriots win again on February 5th, 2017. #MAGA” read another.

“Brady made the NE Patriots great again. Must’ve been the hat! #MAGA”

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus is senior statehouse reporter for Colorado Politics. He covers the legislature and previously covered politics, the governor’s office, the legislature and Congress for The Durango Herald. He joined The Herald in 2014 from The Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the nation’s top state-based political and legislative reporters.