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How Feminist Can The Superbowl Really Be?

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February 8, 2017

Image via Wikimedia Commons

I’ll be honest, I don’t watch football. I go to a football school, I was a cheerleader for football in high school, most people in my life live and breathe football, but I don’t care much for the sport. I barely know what a first down is, and I’ll be hard pressed to name a single player most of the time.

TLDR; Oblivious to any and all sports, thy name is Rachel.

So, most years I tune the buzz about the Superbowl out as much as possible. But recently,the game has began to appeal more and more to my interests. The Superbowl is becoming more of a political event than a sporting event, and this year was no different. Headlines have been raving about the progressive moments of the Superbowl, ranking them every which way and dissecting each moment to get to the juicy, supposedly feminist core.

But how feminist can this massive, mainstream event really be?

Let’s first be clear that the NFL has such an unsteady history with sexual and domestic abusers in their ranks, protecting players that bring in the most wins, money and fans rather than have them face a proper punishment for their actions. Repeatedly, the NFL producers, coaches, and fans show that justice is rarely their first priority when it comes to the players, made evident by the recent case of Josh Brown, former kicker with the New York Giants.

Brown had been suspended for one game in May 2015 following a domestic violence incident with his then wife, even after being aware that there may have been more than twenty similar incidents. Brown had also broken the protective order, also known as a restraining order, that same year by driving past his victim’s houseStill, the one game suspension stood. 

After evidence was obtained by the NFL, that Brown admitted to abusing his wife on multiple occasions, the team released him in the middle of the 2016-17 season.

USA today has a database for NFL athletes and their arrests, with a staggering amount of them being domestic violence and sex related. How often do we hear about them, though? How often do these perpetrators face real justice? How progressive can this league really be when they’re paying their athletes about $2 million per year, even with many of them having problems with violence against women?

Well, what about the performances? Beyonce shook the world with her political statement during the 2015 Superbowl halftime show, dividing the base of NFL fans with praise or calls for boycotts. The following year, debatably in an even more aggressive and tense political environment, Lady Gaga was likely constrained from being as political as the pop star has a reputation for being. The political statements this year were the rendition of ‘This Land if Your Land’, a widely patriotic song with subtext relating to the recent travel ban, and the inclusion of Born This Way in her hits medley, a small strike at the notably anti-gay VP.

Was this political move at the same level as Beyonce’s? Of course not. Was that what the NFL was hoping for? Most likely.

With the amount of revenue that the NFL pulls in each Superbowl, about $620 million for the 2015 game, can they really afford to be divisive if they hope to keep that number growing with each season? Beyonce’s performance will likely be the most we get out of the NFL in terms of progressive values, sadly. Anything but neutrality and silence costs them valuable donors and fans, and they aren’t willing to make that trade.

There are companies and organizations that do make that trade, usually taking form in the much-anticipated Superbowl commercials.

Commercials this year took jabs at the gender wage gap — although not acknowledging the impact that race has to further increase that gap — immigration, diversity, the environment, and so on.

It only took me a few minutes to find the ones that hit these topics, due to all the press they’ve received and the free publicity that comes out of making such statements. Yes, they’re likely losing customers, but they might also be gaining the loss back thanks to the extra time they’re getting on our screens and — therefore — in our heads.

I won’t make any statements that they’re sole purpose of making such statements is to earn that publicity, but it must’ve been in their minds as they were making those decisions.

Regardless of the ideas they promote, the companies buying time during the game are doing so with the larger, capitalist structure in mind. Money is their main goal, politics is often a means to that end. When I hear these same companies do real change, such as large donations or goals to get their company as diverse as their ideas, I’ll be much more impressed with them as compared to a thirty second spot on television.

So, as much as I want these events to be as political and progressive as necessary, I find it hard to believe that we’re already there. All of these decisions and feminist moments are always in the realm of what the NFL will allow and what will make the most profit for each company involved.

With the NFL plagued by rampant toxic masculinity and apologism for domestic abusers and many companies still following the capitalist values that puts many workers at disadvantaged situations, these feminist moments are being used to appeal to the portion of the country that feeds off of these moments. Meanwhile, athletes still make millions after committing crimes like domestic violence, and companies still make money.

The status quo has not changed, y’all. We can’t ignore that while we’re entranced with Lady Gaga’s glitter and Audi’s white-feminist jab at the pay gap.

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