The Super Bowl’s pregame ceremony was gaslighting of the highest order

Illustration: Eric Barrow (Getty Images)
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If you were wondering, yes, the NFL thinks you’re stupid.

Or if not stupid, at least really unobservant, or the kind of person who doesn’t think about things too much. You know, one of those “sports is supposed to be an escape!” people.

For example, the NFL is hoping you got caught up in the emotion of Alicia Keys’ gorgeous performance of the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, and didn’t think too hard about the fact that Colin Kaepernick, the one guy in the league who was willing to give up everything to take a stand for racial equality, is still unemployed. So, by the way, is Eric Reid, a man who soon joined him.

The NFL hopes you loved the slick “It Takes All of Us” video packages, without noticing the dearth of Black NFL head coaches in the league. Oh, and ignore that pesky tomahawk chop music. That’s not supposed to be there.

The NFL wants you to recapture the feeling of Amanda Gorman’s soaring poem at President Biden’s inauguration, this time celebrating essential workers, without ever stopping to think about all the workers the NFL put in harm’s way by ramming this season down everyone’s throats, come hell or high water. Am I the only one who remembers Tuesday afternoon football and the Broncos having no quarterbacks?

The NFL is hoping you got teary-eyed watching frontline health care workers honored by the league (I’ll admit, watching one of them scramble to put his mask back on once he noticed he was on TV was amusing, but in his defense, I think he had been trying to eat), while forgetting all the NFL players that came down with (and likely spread) COVID this season, because there was just too much money at stake not to play.

The NFL hopes you didn’t notice that, in addition to the 7,500 vaccinated health care workers at the game, there were also 14,500 members of the unwashed and presumably unvaccinated masses present in Raymond James Stadium. Sure, they were spaced out amongst cardboard cutouts that cost remote fans $100 a pop, but we never got video of what happened when all those people hit the concourse at the same time after the game. Later, it seems many of them went out to party, mostly maskless, in downtown Tampa.

The Super Bowl: Come for the football, stay for the super-spreading.

(By the way, put a mask on, Vince Lombardi! We need all the modeling of good pandemic behavior we can get.)

The NFL wants to celebrate the women involved in the game, Sarah Thomas as the down judge, and Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar as Bucs coaches, without causing you to remember that Antonio Brown, Tyreek Hill, and Frank Clark, all accused of violence against women, were playing in the game. Or that Tom Brady went this entire postseason run without being asked a single question about the forcible rape lawsuit against his pal, Antonio Brown.

It’s not like I didn’t know what I was going to see when I turned the game on, though I think the highlight of the night might have been Jim Nantz trying to send best wishes to Ariel, the young girl Chief’s coach Britt Reid put in the hospital in critical condition, by saying the parties were “involved” in an accident. Of course, Nantz left out entirely that Reid reportedly told police he’d been drinking. I haven’t heard anyone employ such tortured syntax to avoid placing blame since Ron Johnson tried to blame the Capital riot on Nancy Pelosi.

When you turn on the Super Bowl, you’re getting the best face the NFL can put forward, facts and figures be damned. And no matter what you think of the NFL, the pregame is always spectacular and designed to pull at your heart strings. We all expect it.

But after a year in which so much has gone wrong for so many people, the NFL’s usual bullshit seemed more insulting than usual. I mean, a dais full of guys without masks on thanking health care workers? For real?

More disturbing is how the NFL (possibly rightly) views their fans. As a bunch of easily manipulated cows who don’t think too hard about anything. And while my carefully-curated Twitter community was agog at the irony and hypocrisy, my Facebook timeline, which is full of people I feel forced to be friends with, was much more dewy-eyed about football and the goddamn American-ness of it all. Yeehaw.

In the end, we get the sports leagues we deserve.