- Everyone seemed to love the NFL's 100th anniversary commercial, and it briefly took attention away from the many issues facing the league.
If you were to scroll through Colin Kaepernick’s Twitter account this past weekend—Super Bowl weekend—you would’ve seen a number of celebrities expressing support of him and his cause.
There were activists Harry Belafonte, Angela Davis and John Carlos. There were musicians Common, Janelle Monae and Chamillionaire. NBA superstars LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry were all photographed wearing black Kaepernick jerseys, and several of these other celebrities wore those jerseys, too.
A few people took the movement a step further by coming out and declaring they were boycotting the Big Game altogether. On Rihanna’s Instagram story, she posted an artist’s rendering of Kaepernick kneeling and wrote the caption: “For those of you who thought I was watchin [the] super bowl… we beefin.”
Ava DuVernay, the film director, also wrote on Twitter that she was boycotting the game due to the NFL’s “racist treatment” of Kaepernick, in addition to the league’s “ongoing disregard for the health + well-being of all its players.”
“To watch the game is to compromise my beliefs,” she wrote. “It’s not worth it.”
Then the game started, and just before the halftime show, the NFL ran a commercial to kick off its 100th anniversary celebration. It was a two-minute ad directed by Peter Berg, who’s worked on Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor, and Friday Night Lights. The idea was basically to stage a game of keep-away between some of the biggest names in NFL history, past and present, in a fancy ballroom.
A few of the highlights: Deion Sanders picks off Joe Montana and then high-steps across the room until Brian Urlacher plows him into a table; Franco Harris re-recreates the Immaculate Reception; and Patrick Mahomes throws a no-look pass to Odell Beckham Jr., who makes his famous diving one-handed catch and flattens another table.
Every frame, it seems, a new NFL star pops up. Plenty of Hall of Famers and surefire Hall of Famers took part: Tom Brady, Dick Butkus, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Jim Brown, Terry Bradshaw, and Ed Reed, among them.
Immediately, people hailed the commercial as a success. Not only was it considered one of the best commercials of this year’s Super Bowl, some people joked that it had been better than the game itself. “That was AMAZING!!!” tweeted LeBron James. “Got me so hyped I wanted to be in it too!”
Like a magician holding a shiny object, the NFL had managed to divert the country’s attention away from its other public relations issues for a short while—and all it took was one two-minute ad.
The league has dealt with some of these PR issues for years. As DuVernay noted in her tweet, player safety concerns still loom large. More people are being educated on concussions and CTE, and tackle football participation is declining at the youth level. On this year’s Super Bowl Sunday, President Trump said in an interview with CBS News that he didn’t want his 12-year-old son Barron playing youth football due to safety concerns.
“I just don’t like the reports that I see coming out having to do with football―I mean, it’s a dangerous sport,” Trump said. “I thought the equipment would get better, and it has. The helmets have gotten far better but it hasn’t solved the problem.”
(I should note, Trump seems to be very confused about where he stands on the subject. In September, 2017, he blasted the NFL for its “softer” rules that penalize players for violent hits. “They’re ruining the game!” he said. He also added, mockingly, “‘Uh oh, got a little ding on the head? No, no you can’t play for the rest of the season.’ Our people are tough.”)
Beyond the usual health concerns, this particular Super Bowl carried more PR issues than usual. Kaepernick was a big story, because, not only were celebrities protesting the game in supoort of him, the NFL reportedly had a difficult time booking a halftime act as a result.
The actual game was also mired in controversy. An official had missed a pass interference call in the NFC Championship game, which, many believed, had cost the New Orleans Saints a trip to the Super Bowl. Then, making matters worse, commissioner Roger Goodell decided not to put out a statement addressing the non-call.
At Goodell’s annual Super Bowl press conference, he talked around the subject. Writers across the country bashed him for being too corporate, for being too tone-deaf, for not showing more sympathy for Saints fans who were desperate for any sign of contrition. An admission of guilt would’ve been nice, they felt.
Then the NFL aired this commercial—this ad that celebrated bone-crunching hits, I might add—and for many football fans all seemed to be forgotten, if only for one night. It was the NFL’s best marketing/PR move in years. Put a bunch of Hall of Famers in the same room—the ones who are in good shape, anyway—pair them with some contemporary stars and then choreograph some action as a nod to some of the greatest plays in NFL history. If lost yourself in the moment, you might’ve gotten goosebumps.
But not people in New Orleans. They boycotted the Super Bowl, too.
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