The NFL Gets Political

What do Janet Reno, David Beckham, and LL Cool J. have in common? Besides being has-beens, they are reportedly appearing together in an NFL commercial called “Hanging with Chad,” which will air during the big game. In the ad, a motley crew (including Rascal Flatts, Reggie Bush, Martha Stewart, Warren Sapp, and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) attend a Super Bowl party at the house of Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson. The Super Bowl is in Johnson’s home state of Florida – hence the “hanging chad” reference. But it seems a bit odd that the NFL, hand-wringing corporate juggernaut that it is, would even try a political joke. Besides, isn’t Chad Johnson a “bad-boy” of the sport? When did he become dorm mother? I don’t know about you, but I sense something oppressive in this so-called party.

Chad Johnson is always getting fined for his outrageous clothing (hologram shoes!) by a league that won’t allow coaches to wear suits, except on certain days, and only if those suits are designed by Reebok. Chad Johnson is also always getting fined for celebrating. Oh, the horror! Whether he’s performing CPR on the ball, proposing to a cheerleader, or hoisting a sign that says, “Dear NFL, Please don’t fine me again,” the league looks askance and sends him an invoice. The sign cost him $10,000.

I’ve never cared too much about the celebration fines. Some moralists argue that they serve as a bulwark against poor sportsmanship and unseemly behavior. If the players celebrate, the kids will imitate them. The next thing you know, everyone will be celebrating! Society will be in ruin! Another sanctimonious bunch disagree. They think the NFL makes millions off an ultra-violent sport and acts callously toward the players (especially the lowly ones), and then treats them like children, controlling their every gesture.

I don’t really think the NFL is trying to help kids or chain up the players. They aren’t stopping end-zone celebrations. As Johnson proved, the fines can actually serve to promote them. By making the performances slightly illicit, the league adds a charge to the entertainment, forces the players to take celebrating seriously, and gives us something to argue about. What’s more, it keeps us from arguing about other things – like brain-damaging injuries, gun charges, and politics. Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but I do think that the NFL sets the level of debate about a player’s behavior at a low, irrelevant level, and by doing so, it allows a little bit of meaningless rebellion within its seamless matrix of corporate control.

So off we go to Chad’s house for the Super Bowl. Chad may be a little irreverent, but that’s OK with the NFL. In fact, everything’s OK in small, controllable doses. We have a foul-mouthed puppet, a foreigner who plays a “gay” sport and is into fashion, a hip-hop star, a bland country band, and even a few Democrats. The NFL is a notoriously Republican institution, spawning George Allen, Lynn Swann, and the like. Commissioner Roger Goodell’s father was Sen. Charles Goodell (R-NY). But the young Goodell is less concerned about ideological purity than power. (He spreads his contributions around, as did Paul Tagliabue before him.) “Hanging with Chad” is a fake little democracy with the appearance of soulful diversity. It says we’re all American. We all love football. We all get along. So what does the “hanging chad” electoral reference mean in the midst of all this? As far as the NFL is concerned, politics are like hologram shoes. And don’t worry about Chad Johnson. He probably made enough money off the ad to pay his fines.

I had set out to write about Super Bowl ads, but ended up feeding my paranoia. But maybe that’s the only natural response to a phenomenon that keeps insisting on its universality. Take, for example, the new trend in Youtube-driven DIY ads. Frito Lay held a competition for the best Doritos ads. Now a compilation of finalists appears on the famous Web video site, beginning with a sort of ad for the ads, then ending with clips from a “journalist” trying to convince us how important Super Bowl ads are. Everyone’s going to watch, she says. Everyone is going to be in on it, making a whole new world of advertising in which we are all selling to ourselves. Fantastic! I watch my little YouTube screen inside my screen, and the journalist says, “The big thing to look at this year is going to be how the companies use the internet.”

Well, she got me.
Here are previews of the new Bud ads.
Here is the Kevin Federline Nationwide ad.
Here is one that was supposedly rejected by CBS from godaddy.com
The NFL had its own ad competition and picked this guy’s saccharine idea, then followed him around to promote him promoting himself.
After it all, You Tube is going to have us vote on the best of the bunch.

Or you could ignore all that and just watch this annoying kid sing about how the Super Bowl is gay.

EXTRA EXTRA! As I posted I got an email from Mike with this link saying Johnson was questioned in a Miami shooting.

— Austin    Feb 2, 01:49 PM    #

and don’t forget other recent PR problems like andy reid’s gun slinging, drugged up sons.

great piece aus. this ads speaks to the polarization between the backgrounds of NFL execs and the NFL players. always great fodder for humor. so funny. hah hah hah.

— Tyson    Feb 2, 02:22 PM    #

And what about Jay-Z and Don Shula in that Bud ad? What the hell is that all about?

— Leo    Feb 2, 08:37 PM    #

NFL might allow Chad’s bash but they shut down a church party.

That Jay-Z ad is weird, just like his Intel one.

Austin    Feb 2, 08:45 PM    #

Did anyone see it air? I found it on Youtube.

—    Feb 5, 10:46 AM    #

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