The Current

Super Bowl politics: Two teams line up on different sides of a divided nation

This Sunday, the 52nd Super Bowl game pits last year's winners, New England Patriots against the underdog Philadelphia Eagles — and the field is brimming with politics.
New England Patriots face off the Philadelphia Eagles in Sunday's 52nd Super Bowl. (Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters )
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It's been an NFL football season where politics have been on prominent display.

And its grand finale — the Super Bowl this Sunday — will likely be no different.

U.S. President Donald Trump divided the NFL — and the nation — when he said at the start of the season that players who take a knee in protest during the national anthem should be fired.

Now, the Super Bowl sees the New England Patriots, who count Trump as a fan, face off against the underdog Philadelphia Eagles.

Both teams play in parts of the country where the vote went mostly to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. But the Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick have been vocal Trump supporters. And the team's owner, Robert Kraft, is a long-time friend of the president's, though they had a disagreement after Kraft defended players' right to protest.

Buffalo Bills players are seen taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Players say their message was distorted and was not a protest against the U.S. anthem or flag. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/The Associated Press)

"The Republican Patriots fans definitely embrace it, like I've seen people wearing Patriots jerseys and Make America Great Again caps this week," USA Today sports writer Martin Rogers tells The Current's Friday host Piya Chattopadhyay from Minneapolis, where the Super Bowl will be played.

But Chris Long, who was among the Patriots players who skipped the visit to the White House in protest after their win last year, is now back at the Super Bowl — this time playing for the Eagles. Long, who has spoken out against Trump's policies, said after the far-right rally in August in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, that he will donate his salary this season to progressive causes there. 

Former New England Patriots defensive end Chris Long who donated his 2017 salary to education equality and to fund scholarships, will be playing for the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

"He's become one of the real social consciences of the Philadelphia Eagles, which is perhaps one of the most socially conscious teams in the National Football League," says Rogers. "The city of Philadelphia were very much behind this movement, behind this team, and behind the stand that these players took."

Rogers says that there are of course fans who don't support the politics their teams have come to symbolize, but that many Eagles fans are proud of the metaphor the face-off has taken on.

Sports columnist Martin Rogers says Philadelphia Eagles fans like the fact that the team they are routing for are the underdog. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

"The Eagles fans have definitely bought in on it," he says. "They like the fact that they're the underdog in this race and they like the fact that they're a little bit anti-establishment as a city and as a franchise."

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of education and history at the University of Pennsylvania — and an unabashed Eagles fan. He says that though the Patriots as a whole are not Trump supporters, it's certainly become a popular — if, he says, unfair — way to rib the team's fans.

"One of the ways that we're heaping vilification on the Patriots is by associating them with Donald Trump," Zimmerman tells Chattopadhyay. 

Diane Hessan is the founder of C Space, a market research firm — and a Patriots fan, despite being a Democrat. She says that her market research has shown that only about three per cent of Patriots fans in New England have dumped the team because of their politics.

'Trump nation, like Patriots nation, see their critics as jealous losers who like to whine and find blame,' says Diane Hessan of C Space, a market research firm. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

But she sees connections between Trump supporters and Patriots fans in how they support their teams, even through a stream of controversies.

"The Trump base believes that he's doing a great job, that he's a victim, and that no one really wants to acknowledge it. They're solidly on the Trump team no matter what happens with him," Hessan tells Chattopadhyay.

"And that kind of passion is like Patriots fans… The more that people badmouth the Patriots, the more that the fans love their winning team… Trump nation, like Patriots nation, see their critics as jealous losers who like to whine and find blame, and they explain away the missteps."

Listen to the full audio near the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson.

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