Super Bowl LVI will capture the attention of millions of Americans around the country, but it won’t be able to escape the reach of politics, according to one columnist.
Writing in The Hill Sunday, columnist Niall Stanage said that the NFL’s biggest game of the year is “far from immune from some of the major political issues roiling the nation.” He then picked out the “five biggest political issues that loom over the Super Bowl.”
The first and foremost issue in Stanage’s piece was racism, specifically the lawsuit brought by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. “The NFL has sought to adopt a more progressive image in recent years, especially after the controversy regarding its initial response to the protests begun by [Former San Francisco 49ers QB] Colin Kaepernick … in 2016,” Stanage wrote, but “[t]he NFL is under new scrutiny after former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a legal suit against the league, and three teams … over alleged racist hiring practices.”
Flores sued the NFL and the three teams on February 1, as The Daily Wire previously reported. Flores’ lawsuit alleges that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross pressured him to lose games voluntarily, colloquially known as “tanking,” and pressured Flores to recruit a top-tier quarterback, in violation of the league’s tampering rules. Flores’ refusal to comply led him to be branded as “noncompliant” and “difficult to work with,” ostracized, then fired, the suit alleges. Flores also claims that the Denver Broncos and New York Giants both interviewed him for their head coaching vacancies in 2019 and 2022, respectively, in an effort to comply with the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” for interviewing diverse coaching candidates, but went on to hire white head coaches instead. Ross, the Giants, and then-Broncos GM John Elway have contested Flores’ claims.
The second issue Stanage took up was the potential for a protest of the game. “The trucker protests that are roiling Canada — and snarling border crossings — are virtually certain to spill over into the United States. Could they cause disruption to the Super Bowl?” Stanage wrote. “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has warned that they might.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing Friday that the federal government is taking steps to prevent a blockade of the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, amidst reports that a “Freedom Convoy” protest like the ones going on throughout Canada could be coming to the U.S. “We’re working to address this on all fronts,” Psaki said.
Stanage’s third looming issue was sexual harassment, specifically the ongoing investigation into allegations made against Dan Snyder, the owner of the newly-renamed Washington Commanders. The investigation has since made it to Congress, where former team employees alleged a pervasive culture of sexual harassment and sexism. The NFL also opened a new investigation into allegations against Snyder earlier this week. “The Washington football team was never challenging for a berth in the Super Bowl this year, but the murkiness that surrounds it will percolate through to the big game,” Stanage wrote.
The fourth issue Stanage noted was COVID-19. SoFi Stadium still has strict COVID guidelines in place, in compliance with Los Angeles County and California rules, including vaccination requirements for attendees. “Mask-wearing will be even more strict — in theory,” Stanage wrote. All attendees are supposed to be masked unless eating or drinking, but “that exemption has been very liberally applied at other big sporting events,” he added. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and California Governor Gavin Newsom drew controversy two weeks ago when both were photographed maskless with NBA legend Magic Johnson at the NFC Championship Game at SoFi Stadium. Stanage also noted the economic impacts of COVID, including the supply chain crisis and inflation, and wondered whether Super Bowl ads would reflect those realities.
The fifth and final issue was political polarization. “The NFL itself has found itself in the center of political controversy in recent years,” Stanage wrote, specifically mentioning former President Trump’s comments about NFL players protesting the national anthem in 2017. Stanage pointed to an LA Times/Survey Monkey poll that found that about a third of U.S. adults consider themselves less of a fan of the NFL over the past five years, driven mostly by a decline among Republicans. Still, Stanage wrote that 90 million people tuned in to the Super Bowl last year, and that number was expected to rise this year.
The Cincinnati Bengals take on the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI at 6:30 p.m. EST Sunday.
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