Super Bowl

NFL Has Itself to Blame for Its Super Bowl Disaster

Amid a boring final game and continued Kaepernick debate, the league's image problem persists

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The New England Patriots are Super Bowl champions after a 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in what is widely being called the most boring Super Bowl of all time. It's the sporting extravaganza that is supposed to act as the culmination of a football season that captivates a nation. Instead, social media spent hours bashing everything from the quality of the game, the boredom with the Patriots winning again, the mediocrity that was the halftime show and the continued blackballing of Colin Kaepernick. Boredom allowed for fans to vent all of their problems with the NFL for five uninterrupted hours. The optics were horrible, and the NFL has only its poor, sometimes vindictive, decisions to blame.

There’s an immediate NFL decision that impacted the Super Bowl that is important in the short-term. It’s pretty undeniable that a bad call robbed the New Orleans Saints of a trip to the Super Bowl. Two weeks ago, as the Saints vs. Rams NFC Championship was entering its final minutes of regulation, referees missed a blatant pass-interference call that would have put the New Orleans team in the big game. A Drew Brees vs. Tom Brady championship game between two of the greatest quarterbacks ever would have been big box office, and there’s a safe bet the game would have been more entertaining.

The NFL has tried to rectify many of its officiating controversies, but it may have been too little, too late, as they waited until 2017 to employ any referees full-time. By then, the league had seen so many prime-time blown calls that the stench of bad calls are all over any mistake, big or small. But that missed pass interference is just the tip of the iceberg. The other, bigger issues with the Super Bowl stem from years of stubborn choices.
As the Super Bowl was gearing up, celebrities and athletes—from Stephen Curry to Ava DuVernay—were wearing “I’m With Kap” jerseys. Meanwhile, artists across the country were painting murals of Kaepernick during and before the game. It doesn’t help that one of the arguments made about the exiled star, even as recently as this weekend, is that he wouldn’t be a valuable football asset for a team. As that argument is being made, the nation that watched a quarterback for the Rams—Jared Goff, who was incapable of scoring a touchdown on the biggest game of the year—was begging the question: “You mean, Colin Kaepernick couldn’t do that?” This is especially true for casual fans, who only go by the optics of what they saw on their televisions for the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl halftime show is usually where the country can come together, regardless of team alliances, and enjoy the entertainment. This year was different. The NFL came under fire for its halftime selection of Maroon 5, a mostly white pop act with no ties to the booming city of Atlanta and its hip-hop connection. The Super Bowl halftime show has been a point of racial contention since Janet Jackson was herself blackballed after her top was exposed on live television. In the years since, the halftime show veered older and whiter. Picking Maroon 5 only furthered that perception.
The nation watched a Rams quarterback who was incapable of scoring a touchdown, begging the question: 'You mean, Colin Kaepernick couldn’t do that?'
But the NFL was in a tough spot of its own doing. The game was sorely missing an urban act, partly because of the league’s aforementioned desire for “safe” performers, but was also the target of major African-American stars like Jay-Z, Rihanna and Cardi B publicly declaring that they would not perform at halftime in solidarity with Kaepernick. So the league was left with Maroon 5 and scrambling to find black artists to quell the anger of the decision, while trying to appeal to stars who still wanted anything to do with the league. The result? Travis Scott and Atlanta’s own Big Boi. Even though they performed, the show still belonged to Maroon 5, who struggled through a set that was universally panned on social media.

The Super Bowl was a perfect storm of all of the NFL’s bad decisions coming home to roost—as an added bonus, the MVP, Julian Edelman, was suspended earlier in the year for performance-enhancing drugs. The result? The lowest-rated Super Bowl since 2009.

The NFL has thrived for years despite a groundswell of anti-NFL sentiment and the league’s misguided decisions and hubris. They’ll still rake in money, and the Super Bowl will always exist as some sort of singular American event. But at some point, the league will have to reckon with the choices it’s made that got us to this point: with an entire country of viewers (New England fans aside, probably) spending hours expressing disdain for the entire NFL product.

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