A Different Super Bowl Matchup: Politics vs. the N.F.L….

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Politics could even bleed into the game during the halftime musical act — usually a saccharine spectacle — because this year’s headliner, Lady Gaga, is an outspoken champion of gay rights and women’s rights and has been sharply critical of Mr. Trump at times.

The Super Bowl is only the latest cultural event to be awash in political undercurrents. Last month, Meryl Streep stole the show at the Golden Globes awards ceremony with a fiery denunciation of Mr. Trump as a demagogue and a bully, followed by a series of speeches at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Harbour and other actors lashed into Mr. Trump’s new visa ban that targets predominantly Muslim countries.

Two more major award shows loom this month — the Grammys, on Feb. 12, and the Academy Awards, on Feb. 26 — and some politically charged speeches and moments are widely expected, especially at the Oscars, which an Iranian filmmaker is planning to skip in protest of Mr. Trump’s immigration policies.

It is unclear if the Grammys and the Oscars will draw protesters the way the Super Bowl has, given that the award shows will feature many performers who are liberals in solidarity against Mr. Trump. But the awards shows and the Super Bowl do point up another deep divide in American life: N.F.L. leaders would prefer to stay as far away from politics as they can, while Hollywood stars seem to be interested in engaging as they walk the red carpet or deliver acceptance speeches on live television.

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The Vince Lombardi Trophy, which goes to the winner of the Super Bowl, was displayed at the site of Mr. Goodell’s address, between helmets representing the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots.

Credit
Doug Mills/The New York Times

But the N.F.L. has long struggled to find neutral ground between its biggest annual game and the events that swirl around it. As the Super Bowl has grown from a game to a weekend to a two-week news media rodeo attracting thousands of reporters, the league has opened itself up to more lavish publicity, but also more scrutiny and criticism.

“The league is certainly powerful, but I don’t know how you control it when you have media day with the teams on the field with not just sports reporters and television networks, but people from ‘Entertainment Tonight’ and you name it, and asking questions that have nothing to do with the game,” said Ed Goren, the former executive producer and vice chairman of Fox Sports. “Because it’s the Super Bowl, the questions are going to get asked.”

The politically charged atmosphere that has enveloped the country the last few months comes after a wobbly year for the country’s premier sports league. It began with one of its top stars, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, serving a four-game suspension for his role in a suspected scheme to deflate footballs in a playoff game two years ago. At the same time, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick set off a national debate by refusing to stand for the national anthem as a way to shine a light on police brutality.

The league has also had to grapple with a worrying decline in TV ratings, the bread and butter of its growth. This season was the first when every major broadcast partner’s ratings slipped, which some analysts say could represent a slowing of the league’s long rise.

The off-the-field concerns surrounding the game added an extra dimension to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s annual state of the league address on Wednesday. He was asked repeatedly about the effect of teams abandoning their cities for Los Angeles and potentially Las Vegas, about how the league is considering changing its games to increase viewership and about his contentious relationship with the Patriots.

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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had been suspended for the first four games of the season, speaking to the news media on Monday at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Credit
Doug Mills/The New York Times

But like the players who spoke Monday, Goodell refused to address what his or the league’s stance is on the ban on refugees, or on the political turmoil that is dominating the national conversation.

“You know, we’re aware of the conversations going on, and the division,” Goodell said. “As commissioner of the N.F.L., I’m singularly focused on the Super Bowl right now. As I said before, we have a unique position to have an event on Sunday that will bring the world together. They will have an opportunity to be entertained, to feel good about what we’re doing, and that’s something that we feel very proud of, and it’s something we’re going to continue to be focused on.”

Indeed, fans tuning in Sunday probably will not hear much about the wider world beyond the walls of NRG Stadium, where the game will be played. The interview with the president will occur several hours before kickoff, similar to when President Barack Obama was interviewed in 2013 on Super Bowl Sunday. The pregame shows may address some nonfootball topics, though most of the panelists on the shows are former football players and coaches who, by instinct, stick to the game.

The announcers for the game, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, will also steer clear of any references to events outside football.

“As far as wedging in political commentary about the immigration situation or President Trump between second and third down, I don’t think there’s a lot of value in that,” Buck said in a phone interview. “I think people look at the game as a respite from the updates on their phones, the political banter back and forth on CNN and Fox. At some point, you want to turn on the game and watch the game.”

Goodell, who gave his address on Wednesday in the George Bush Grand Ballroom at the convention center, said that the former president and his wife, Barbara, who live in Houston, would be at the game on Sunday and help with the coin toss.

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