Taylor Swift, anxious masculinity, and militarism at the Super Bowl

From taking a knee to Taylor Swift, the Super Bowl is now the ultimate political battlefield – stream this film in your classes to see how we got here.

Politics is once again on a collision course with football at next week’s Super Bowl, providing educators with a rare teachable moment to tackle a range of timely issues that transcend sports – from presidential politics to gender politics to the politics of militarism and war.

Ripped straight from the headlines, the list of political controversies swirling around America’s most-watched entertainment spectacle this year includes:

  • Conspiratorial right-wing claims that Taylor Swift is part of a joint NFL/Democratic Party psychological operations plot designed to help elect Joe Biden president.¹
  • Men being triggered by Swift whenever she’s shown on camera during games because they say it distracts from the purity of the sport.²
  • Criticism of the league for cynically trading on Swift’s popularity to deflect attention away from ongoing investigations into rampant sexual harassment, abuse, and misogyny in NFL front offices.³
  • And concerns about the NFL’s long history of hypermilitarized patriotism and pro-war propaganda at a time when the Biden administration’s unflagging support for Israel’s war in Gaza risks drawing American troops into wider war in the Middle East.⁴

If you’re interested in using this year’s Super Bowl as a teaching tool to explore any of these issues or the larger intersection of politics, popular culture, and sports, be sure to check out our bestselling film Behind the Shield: The Power and Politics of the NFL, featuring acclaimed Nation magazine writer Dave Zirin.

Behind the Shield is now streaming on Kanopy through university and public libraries and is also available on DVD and on other digital platforms.

In the film, Zirin expertly navigates a stunning, decades-long media archive to show how the National Football League – under the guise of providing an “escape from politics” – has glamorized destructive, deeply political ideas about masculinity and femininity; glorified militarism and helped sell a succession of wars going back to the 1960s; normalized white male authority, systemic racism, and corporate greed; and helped define anyone who dissents from this hyper-politicized, reactionary vision of America as unpatriotic and “too political.”

The result is a film that’s less about sports, football, or even the National Football League, than about the contradictions that define America itself.

(1) “Right-wing media figures target Taylor Swift with absurd conspiracy theory ahead of the Super Bowl,” by Oliver Darcy and Andrew Kaczynski, CNN Business, Jan. 30, 2024.
(2) “Colin Cowherd blasts Taylor Swift NFL haters as ‘weird, lonely’ men who never had ‘intimacy’ with a woman,” NBC News, Jan. 31, 2024.
(3) “Why the NFL cares about Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce,” by Howard Fendrich, Associated Press, Oct. 6, 2023.
(4) “Does the Super Bowl Feel Too Political? Thank Militarism,” by Peter Certo, Foreign Policy in Focus, Jan. 28, 2019.



“Behind the Shield is about so much more than football – it is about us and where we are as a nation and what lies ahead. If you love football, watch this film. If you care about justice, watch this film!”
— Eddie S. Glaude Jr. | Head of African American Studies at Princeton University

Behind the Shield  is terrifying and brilliant. After watching it, I now believe that you cannot understand this country without understanding NFL football. I will be showing this film in my classes FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.”
— Robin D.G. Kelley | Professor and Chair of History, UCLA

Behind the Shield convincingly demonstrates that football is indeed the most American sport, then deftly deconstructs just what that Americanness implies. There is the brutality of racism, violence, militarism, and hypermasculinity, but also the courageous resistance and unyielding commitment of those who love America enough to, as James Baldwin wrote, ‘insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.’”
— Melissa Harris-Perry | The Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University

“Dave Zirin is one of the foremost thought leaders on the intersection between sports, race, and politics. In Behind the Shield, his thoughtful critiques of the most powerful brand in sports are both necessary and patriotic.”
— Jemele Hill | Sports Journalist, Contributing Writer, The Atlantic

“You may not care about football—but [this] riveting documentary reminds us that we have a stake in understanding how powerful the NFL is in shaping our country, culture, and politics. A must-watch.”
— Katrina vanden Heuvel | Editorial Director & Publisher, The Nation

“A provocative, eye-opening documentary that upends conventional wisdom. You may not agree with everything in [this film]. But it will compel you to ponder, deeply.”
— Ken Auletta | Media Critic for The New Yorker

“Provocative and unflinching, Behind the Shield is not just about the NFL, but about who we are as Americans. This documentary is long overdue.”
— Julie DiCaro | Sports Journalist, Author, Sidelined: Sports, Culture & Being a Woman in America

“Outstanding! Exposes the heart of the menacing partnership between the NFL and the military-industrial complex. Watch this documentary, and then share it. The stakes are too high not to.”
— Rory Fanning | Author, Former U.S. Army Ranger who served with Pat Tillman in Afghanistan

“An exceptional expose of why American football fans’ and the NFL’s demand that we shouldn’t insert ‘politics in sports’ is itself so political. A must-watch.”
— Soraya Chemaly | Author, Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger

Behind the Shield offers a stark portrait that compels viewers to consider the power, pitfalls, and possibilities of the NFL’s continued cultural impact.”
— Amira Rose Davis | Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas-Austin, Co-host of the “Burn it All Down” podcast

“An indispensable educational resource for our perilous political times. Whether you love professional football or hate it, if you want your students to understand how the sports/entertainment industry shapes dominant ideology, this film is your new best friend.”
— Jackson Katz, Ph.D. | Author, Creator of the award-winning Tough Guise video series

“Don’t miss this grand documentary!! David Zirin is the most brilliant and courageous sports intellectual in America!”
— Dr. Cornel West | Author, Race Matters