Have you ever read something that, without missing a beat, articulates to the letter, how you feel about something. Well, Aaron Timms has done just that for me and I've included that very article that simply nailed it.
I will write no further. Please read on…
The league may want to pretend it has changed but TV coverage in the US reminded us that it remains in love with its own importance
Mon 13 Feb 2023 14.00 EST
With Tom Brady finally, probably off the scene and the age of Patrick Mahomes upon us, this year’s Super Bowl promised a new beginning for football in America, a kind of cultural reset after the Kaepernick-Trump years. Rihanna back on stage for the first time in four years! Two Black quarterbacks facing off for the first time in Super Bowl history! Greg Olsen’s emergence as America’s favorite play-by-play guy and the enduring gap-toothed charm of Michael Strahan! At each turn of the half-day behemoth that was Fox’s pre-game coverage, viewers were handed some fresh invitation to believe that we have entered a new era. But as kickoff grew closer and the jingoism thickened, a darker truth became clear: the NFL has not changed. It’s just found a new and bigger cast of characters to buy into its bullshit.
No country has America’s gift for blending sport, militarism, celebrity, and consumerism into a single package, and there’s no better demonstration of that gift than the Super Bowl. Fox, a network completely at ease with the death cult of modern America, is maybe the perfect home for an assignment like this, its on-air talents blending football pedigree and thoughtless patriotism in perfect, Super Bowl-ready proportion.
Super Bowl Sunday was, we were confidently told from the beginning of Fox’s coverage, “the biggest day of the year”, “the biggest spectacle in the world”. Tom Rinaldi, prowling the State Farm Stadium sideline in a check blazer and sneakers like a kind of Fox Sports Seinfeld, solemnly declared, ““More than 200 million Americans will be united by sports today. That’s the power of football.” All of which is, perhaps, fair enough: the Super Bowl isthe biggest spectacle in the world, just as long as you ignore the World Cup final, the Champions League final, the Tour de France, the Cricket World Cup, or the Olympics. Unworldly delusions of grandeur bearing no connection to the facts: it’s the Super Bowl on Fox, baby!
The relative discipline of the daily Shannon Sharpe-Skip Bayless shoutfest kicked off Fox’s extravaganza, before it gave way to the pre-game presentation proper, a boozy six-hour wedding of a show in which a bunch of middle aged guys stood around on the edge of the televisual dancefloor, talking over the top of each other. A bizarre early tribute to Michael Vick as the pioneer who paved the way for Black quarterbacks in the league – no mention of any other Black quarterbacks – set the tone, and from there Fox was quickly into its stride.
There was much breathless warzone reporting from outside the team hotels: “In approximately 28 minutes, the Chiefs will be boarding the buses and heading over to the stadium!” Rinaldi inexplicably devoted one of his tragically corny human interest pieces to the subject of wheat. Over footage of a harvester plowing through a field and soldiers climbing a wall, he intoned, “More than the setting or the stakes or the time, we really come for the question. That when the odds are long, the time short, pressure great, what will they do? They’ll do what we’ve always done. Respond.” Um, OK Tom. Whatever you say.
The Super Bowl is always a prime example of American Bloat, but watching the manic cuts between segments and celebrities (Tracy Morgan! Jon Hamm! Brad Pitt! Gordon Ramsay for some reason!) created something like the sports broadcasting equivalent of one of those viral food videos where a slab of meat is marinated, then slow cooked, shredded, chilled, pulverized, and sprinkled over a fresh piece of meat that’s then marinated, slow cooked, shredded, rolled into a burrito, fried, sliced, stacked into a tower of burger buns, then covered in melting cheese.
Super Bowl Sunday is not only about the football, of course: it’s about the half-time show, the pre-game musical numbers, and the ads, all of which invariably say far more about the state of the NFL and the US than anything that happens on the field. One pre-game commercial for NFL Play 60, the league’s youth fitness initiative, featured a child asking Roger Goodell, “How does it feel to be booed at the NFL draft?” (Goodell’s unconvincing, straight-from-central-marketing answer: “I actually love it because it’s a way for fans to interact.”) Another featured a confusing discussion about cultural appropriation. The subtext was to present the NFL as a league that had listened, that had heard its critics’ complaints and was now back in tune with the times, newly sensitive and culturally inclusive.
Babyface sang America The Beautiful while strumming a guitar decorated with the Stars and Stripes and the camera cut to Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni hocking up a massive gob of spit. Actor Anthony Mackie delivered a boilerplate monologue about the “promise of America”, after which Fox’s on-air crew was mostly eager to remind everyone that Mackie, who is Black, is the new Captain America. There was an extended tribute to Pat Tillman, the former NFL footballer who enlisted in the military after 9/11 then died in Afghanistan, that featured veterans of color who have received scholarships from the eponymous foundation set up after his death. The anthem featured the first all-female Navy flyover in Super Bowl history.
All these gestures seemed superficially “woke”, the kind of thing to set the racists and right wingers off – as if the NFL had caved to the interests who supported taking a knee during the Kaepernick wars. But they were actually about assimilating new adherents to American power, about showing how the football-military complex could grow and change with the times, enlisting new subjects. This is the new America: a country with the same messianic sense of national destiny as always, only friendlier and more diverse. It’s the same old murdering machine with better PR. Take heart, blameless civilians of the Middle East: the missiles may still be on their way, but at least they will be fired by women.
As the game wore on and Fox’s coverage wound towards its inevitable conclusion (the season two premiere of Next Level Chef), an unfortunate truth was forgotten amid the jingoism and the celebration, the confetti and the bloat: Pat Tillman became disenchanted with US military adventurism, and was killed by friendly fire, a fact the members of the military covered up for weeks afterwards.
Super Bowl LVII may have shown how the NFL has evolved beyond Trumpism, but football in the US remains a monster mostly unchanged: casually bombastic, in love with its own importance, and blind to the truth of the country around it.
…all in the name of Entertainment American Style. The NFL is registered as ENTERTAINMENT. WWE? Entertainment. FOX? Entertainment.