The Super Bowl LI

Congratulations to the New England Patriots for their impressive comeback and win! Many of you likely enjoyed watching the game and commercials last night with your family and friends. There were probably some disagreements about which team was better and should win. There might have even been some disgust about the possible political messages that some of the ads were sending. Tensions are particularly high when it comes to politics these days and when party lines are already divided between teams, we hope that you took a moment to think about what the ads and actions of the NFL might be saying to younger viewers and even to think about what the messages meant to you. We’ve written before on various instances of sexism and domestic violence in the college football and the NFL in general, but with the 51st Super Bowl having taken place this past weekend we wanted to dive a little deeper. Issues that have raised concern in past games that you might want to discuss have included a player protesting by kneeling during the national anthem, cheerleaders’ outfits and their treatment, and controversial halftime shows.


The Super Bowl’s commercial breaks are nearly as anticipated as the big game itself, with advertisers spending an average of $5 million to secure a 30-second slot. While the advertising industry itself continues to struggle with sexism, the top ads at the Super Bowl are put under a stronger spotlight that illuminates the deeper issues within this particular sport.

This year, however it seems some advertisers are getting it. It’s no longer just men watching the Super Bowl and the commercials during breaks, but women now make up almost half of the audience and are being targeted as such. Lisa Granatstein, editor at Adweek spoke about the trend, saying “It’s an amazing platform for a brand to message that they support women, that they take it seriously. It’s also been the zeitgeist. This is something that’s been brewing for some time, so a lot of brands are taking on that message, which gets translated into social media and has an even wider audience.”

Because of women’s purchasing power, more brands are rejecting sexist and hypersexualized portrayals of women, opting for more respectful portrayals that appeal to the female viewers. Check out the American Association of University Women’s list of best feminist Super Bowl ads, which is updated each year.

Women in the Industry

It’s no secret that the sport of football has faced a gender inequality problem for some time, at all levels and in various ways. The problem is rampant in coaching, scouting, and executive positions, but also within the media and fan base. Women with ties to popular players are frequently subjected to unwarranted sexist abuse for game losses and other failures, just for being a “distraction.”

Additionally, with a pending lawsuit by NFL cheerleaders on the horizon, top executives are scrambling to call out the league for ensuring women are treated properly within the industry. This lawsuit alleges that not only are the female cheerleaders barely paid minimum wage, but they often aren’t paid for appearances and practices like the male football players are.

Sex Trafficking

Some may ask if the sex trafficking uptick around the Super Bowl is legitimate, but they miss the point that it’s a problem that should be addressed year-round, regardless of large sporting events that draw mainly wealthy, mainly male crowds to one city for an adrenaline-based experience.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 2,000 human traffickers and identified 400 victims last year alone, prompting flight attendant training to spot sex trafficking victims being transported by plane. On top of this training, over 25 groups organizations have joined the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) to conduct a nation-wide social media awareness campaign to #TackleDemand for sex trafficking at the Super Bowl and beyond.

Looking Ahead

As the advertising industry works to address sexist portrayals of women in the media, and the service industry trains employees to notice and respond to attempted sex trafficking, this year’s Super Bowl may be one step closer to achieving equality for the sporting world. Many celebrated Lady Gaga, who has been very outspoken on sexual assault and sexism, as the half-time performer and the Schuyler Sisters for their modification to “America the Beautiful.” While these strides should be celebrated, we must remember to look beyond one sporting event and seek to change not just the industry, but society as a whole.

What did you think of the Super Bowl and its ads this year? Check in and consider contributing by leaving a comment or emailing!


One thought on “The Super Bowl LI

  1. Excellent article! Very well thought out and inspirational. I appreciate that the message was meaningful without sounding like a forced lecture. You made many strong & powerful points! Great Job! InJOY! Cyndi Targosz


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