A Super Bowl Awash in Politics, on Social Media and Off the Field



Mr. Trump did not attend the game, opting for a traditional Super-Bowl-watching party near his Mar-a-Lago vacation home in South Florida. (Social media users dissected a picture of Mr. Trump and his family not looking enthusiastic at a table there and took sometimes harsh note of Mr. Trump’s departure with nearly an hour and a half left in the game.)


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A Familiar Ring

CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times


Vice President Mike Pence attended the game and drew some boos when he was shown on a stadium screen talking with James Baker, who served as secretary of state under former President George Bush. Mr. Bush did the opening coin toss from a wheelchair on the field, accompanied by the former first lady Barbara Bush.

A succession of commercials with themes of inclusion, immigration and multiculturalism were seen by many viewers as commentary on Trump’s executive orders restricting immigration and his calls for a wall along the Mexican border.

One commercial made by Anheuser-Busch follows the path of one of the company’s co-founders, Adolphus Busch, as he immigrated from Germany to the United States. The ad was criticized by some right-leaning commentators who created a hashtag, #BoycottBudweiser.

The actor Morgan Freeman appeared in a commercial for Turkish Airlines, speaking about “bridging worlds and finding delight in our differences.”

Before, during and after the game, people talked about an ad for the construction-supply company 84 Lumber that featured imagery of a Mexican mother and daughter on a journey north for a better life in the United States. The company deleted some scenes depicting a border wall but included the full ad on its website.

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Former President George Bush and his wife Barbara arrived to flip the coin before Super Bowl LI.

Credit
Doug Mills/The New York Times

The right-wing website Breitbart News, in its live coverage of the game, grew exasperated.

“These commercials have been a bonanza of leftist activism: two immigration commercials, a feminist commercial, now an eco wacko commercial? Am I missing anything?” one of the editors wrote.

About the only aspect of the game that generated a surprisingly more muted political discussion than expected was the one everybody seemed to think would cause a stir: the halftime show by Lady Gaga, a persistent critic of Mr. Trump.

With a dash of patriotic imagery — red and blue drones forming the shape of the United States — she mostly stuck to her hits, with only a few gestures that some interpreted as subtle digs at the president.

During her song “Stay” she hugged a woman of uncertain ethnicity and sang, “Why don’t you stay,” a move that people on Twitter thought was a statement about race and immigration.

The N.F.L. tried in its own way to unify the country for a few hours.

Fans at the stadium were given small flags to wave during the singing of the national anthem, and when the teams ran onto the field, they were led by soldiers and sailors holding large American flags. The league even ran a 60-second commercial called “Inside These Lines” to show that “the power of football” can “bring people together.”

Still, outside the stadium it was another story.

The president’s unabashed support for the Patriots turned into a punch line on social media when the Patriots fell behind by 25 points early in the second half. Some fans accused the president of jinxing the team.

In Houston, hundreds of people protested the president and his policies near the stadium, crossing paths with thousands of fans heading to the game. Chants of “Black Lives Matter” were applauded by Falcons fans. Similar protests took place last week near an N.F.L.-themed park downtown.

Atlanta, the capital of a solidly red state, was suddenly adopted as a darling of left-leaning football fans. One commenter on Twitter joked, “The Falcons respect an independent judiciary,” a dig at the president’s criticism of the federal judge in Seattle who temporarily halted the refugee ban.

Some Patriots fans, uneasy with their team’s link to the president, encouraged fellow fans to donate to organizations like the N.A.A.C.P. and Planned Parenthood each time the Patriots scored.

After the game, Martellus Bennett, a tight end for the Patriots, reiterated his vow not to attend the customary congratulatory ceremony at the White House, because he opposes Mr. Trump.

Still, at the end Mr. Trump exulted, once again stoking support and derision.

“What an amazing comeback and win by the Patriots,’’ he wrote on Twitter. “Tom Brady, Bob Kraft and Coach B are total winners. Wow!”

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