Keeping My Fingers Crossed for the Super Bowl

(…and not just because my team is in it.)

The Super Bowl is hands-down the single biggest annual media event in America and possibly the world. A record-breaking 111 million viewers tuned into the Fox Network to watch the Packers beat the Steelers making it the most-watched telecast in U.S. history. Now obviously, many of those 111 million people weren’t tuned in just to watch the game. The modern Super Bowl is as much a contest for advertisers as it is for football teams. Fox made roughly $200 million in ad revenue last year, from those few hours alone.

So in the run-up to this year’s battle between the Patriots and Giants, let’s take a minute to put aside Gronk’s questionable ankle, Eli Vs. Brady, and who will win the reminiscent trench battle between Jason Pierre-Paul and Matt Light. Let’s talk commercials. With advertisers planning to pump billions of dollars to their Super Bowl commercials, there’s no doubt we can expect to see more clever gags, talking animals, celebrity cameos, more talking animals. Let’s certainly not forget the homages to pop culture, day-trading babies and of course, even more talking animals. But unfortunately, what we also can expect is a poor representation of the LGBT community.  

We all remember the Snickers ad from 2007, in which two mechanics sharing a candy bar accidentally kiss, then “do something manly.” During the game, audiences saw the two men rip out each others’ chest hair. Online, audiences saw one of the men crush the other’s head with a giant wrench. Viewers were also given the chance to watch NFL players react to watching the ads – most wincing in disgust at the sight of the two men kissing. Under pressure from GLAAD, HRC, and LGBT advocates, Snickers pulled the plug on the campaign, and the videos have been removed from the internet.


The very next year, Bridgestone Tires ran an ad in which a driver swerved to avoid a deer, then swerved to avoid hitting Alice Cooper, who was in the road for a reason to symbolize something “unexpected.” But when fitness guru Richard Simmons appeared in the road (equally inexplicably) the driver’s eyes got wide, he gunned the engine, and raced right at Simmons, before swerving again at the very last second to avoid killing him.

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In 2010, CBS decided to air an ad by the notoriously anti-gay organization Focus on the Family, despite having rejected ads with pro-LGBT messages.

And it hasn’t just been gay men targeted. 2010 was also the year that an ad for something called “Flo TV” ended with the arguably anti-transgender tagline “change out of that skirt, Jason.”



And last year, an ad for Living Social showed a transgender woman’s transition from brawny man to woman, thanks to the discounts offered by the service.



This ad was probably the best portrayal of LGBT themes in recent Super Bowl history, and certainly portrayed the main character as being happy with her life. But, as we wrote last year, there’s a shock/laugh value at play, and it does portray an inaccurate journey through becoming more “cultured,” to being gay, and eventually to presenting as a woman.

While most of these ads, and several others not described here, rely on anti-LGBT themes in the service of humor,  anyone who’s ever been the butt of a joke knows that’s not the case.  The truth is these words and images have a real impact on the everyday lives of millions of Americans.  They feed in to the dangerous stereotypes that fuel bias toward the LGBT community and prevent them from participating fully in their communities.  Even if the context is an attempt at humor  dehumanizing gay and transgender people needs to be taken seriously..

This Super Bowl is more than just a rematch from 2007.As Outsports points out, the two teams playing for the Lombardi trophy are two of the most pro-LGBT teams in all of professional sports—both teams’ owners have made public statements supporting marriage equality.  Former Giants’ great Michael Strahan filmed an HRC video supporting marriage equality in New York last year. The Patriots went all-out to welcome Boston Herald columnist and sportswriter Steve Buckley after he came out last year.

Throughout the world of sports, 2011 was nothing short of remarkable in terms of LGBT support. The NFL, NBA and MLB all added anti-discrimination clauses to their labor agreements that protect people based on sexual orientation.  NBA superstar Grant Hill appeared in a fantastic anti-bullying PSA for GLSEN which will be shown to spectators outside the Super Bowl on Sunday. Shaquille O’Neal became arguably the highest-profile athlete ever to take part in a pro-LGBT campaign when he appeared in GLAAD’s “Amplify Your Voice” ads last year. The aforementioned HRC campaign featuring Strahan also featured pro hockey player Sean Avery and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash speaking out about the importance of marriage equality.  Eight Major League Baseball teams (who all received advice from GLAAD) filmed messages of support for the It Gets Better campaign.

As we continue to work with the advertising world to encourage accurate and inclusive representations of LGBT people in commercials, my hope is that this is the year that ad-makers catch up to athletes, and we can finally stop adding to the list of “anti-LGBT” themed Super Bowl commercials.

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