It’s almost game day! And while that means eating too many chips, shouting at people thousands of miles away from you and rooting for one of the greatest football teams to ever grace the field (full disclosure I’m a Patriots fan and proud of it), this year’s Super Bowl also offers the chance for a political moment or two to slip through the cracks.
The POTUS Interview:
This was a tradition started by President George W. Bush and continued through President Barack Obama’s tenure and again with President Donald Trump’s first Super Bowl while in office. The commander in chief gives an interview on whichever network is broadcasting the Super Bowl that year.
The interviews often range from lighthearted sports banter, like Bush talking about his childhood of watching teams disappoint him in Houston, to hardcore policy talk like when Obama answered questions on the Benghazi hearings. They almost always include the awkward moment where they are asked which team they are rooting for, and without a home team to give them an out, they often give a non-answer to avoid offending the voting population of either team’s fans.
NBC has said that the president will not sit down for an interview before the big game this year, thus breaking the tradition. While this may seem like a non-political moment then, there is still potential for another political figure to take his place, or for Trump to post his own video message or any other type of last-minute audible before the game.
The National Anthem:
What started as a movement to spark conversation about police brutality and racial inequality has snowballed into a national debate about the right of players to kneel for the national anthem. Trump has made his position on the issue very clear, frequently calling on the NFL and coaches to fire players who choose to kneel.
Most recently, during his State of the Union address, he brought the issue up again when talking about Preston Sharp, a young boy from California who volunteers by putting American flags on veteran’s graves.
“Preston’s reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem,” Trump said.
The line was met by applause from the Republican side of the aisle. The moments leading up to the national anthem and the performance itself will likely be closely watched to see how members of both teams choose to proceed.
Kraft + Trump:
It’s no big secret that Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft and Trump are friendly. Trump has frequently mentioned Kraft and said Kraft has called Trump to offer advice on policy decisions.
“He said this tax bill is incredible,” Trump said. “He owns the New England Patriots, but, he’s in the paper business, too. And he said based on this tax bill that he just wanted to let me know that he’s going to a buy a big plant in the great state of North Carolina, and he’s going to build a tremendous paper mill there — or paper products plant.”
Kraft, who has also called Trump a friend of many years, said during a Bloomberg interview that Trumps is hardworking and will help the economy.
“I don’t believe that he is portrayed properly and so a lot of people don’t see him the right way,” Kraft said. “And part of it is self-inflicted with some of the things — some of the style he used. But I really hope things will be better three to six months from now.”
The pair hasn’t always been on the same side, however. Kraft, who has historically donated to Democratic candidates, pushed back against Trump’s comments calling for NFL coaches to fire players who kneel during the national anthem.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday,” a statement by Kraft read. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady also has a friendship with Trump and has frequently been asked about Trump after a “Make America Great Again” hat was seen in Brady’s locker. While Brady has called Trump a friend and complimented his career path, Brady has largely dodged any questions about Trump since he has taken office.
It’s likely these friendships will be brought up at some point during the Super Bowl coverage, and even more so if (when) the Patriots win the game and once again play the will they/won’t they game about visiting the White House to celebrate their win.