Saturday, February 5, 2011
It’s just a game, right? Thoughts on the Super (?) Bowl
Over the past few years there has been a lot of debate about the link between the Super (?) Bowl and the issue of violence against women. Before I address the Super (?) Bowl specifically, let me begin by saying that I understand the appeal of watching NFL football. I really do. Growing up in the Washington DC area I was a huge fan of the Redskins.
(This was a long time ago – before I came to understand how outrageous it was that the any professional football team – much less the one that is located in the capital of the United States – is called the “Redskins,” which is an utterly racist name. Even people who continue to support using the image of indigenous peoples to promote white-owned sports franchises should by now have come to understand that the name “Redskins” is simply not appropriate.)
While I no longer live in the U.S.A., I do still do watch an occasional NFL football game on television. I hate its celebration of physical violence. I hate its sexist camera shots of cheerleaders who are paid (minimally) to shake their breasts and gyrate their hips for the folks at home. I hate the continuing under-representation of African Americans as quarterbacks and head coaches (not to mention team owners). But I love the fact that the game has a great beauty to it. I love the pure athleticism that at times resembles an aerial ballet. One could make the case that the athletic potential of the human male body reaches its apex in the NFL. (At least for a little while. The careers of most players are very short. The rate of long-term disability in football players is extremely high, and pro football players die a lot sooner than their non-football-playing peers.)
Part of me really loves football. Another part of me really hates it. So perhaps this makes me a good person to comment on the Super(?) Bowl.
Are all pro football players rapists? According to the website jezebel.com, this year both teams that are playing in the 2011 Super? Bowl have been dogged by allegations of rape. Seven members of the Green Bay Packers were alleged to have participated in the gang rape of two women last summer. (At this point only one player remains under active investigation.) And the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger, was suspended for several games this season by the NFL after an allegation that he raped a woman in a nightclub bathroom while his bodyguards stood watch outside. He was never prosecuted criminally, but the NFL still saw fit to take him out of action for a while. So you just know it had to be a pretty big deal. (And, who knows, perhaps it was ultimately a sweet deal from the prosecutor: suspend Roethlisberger from play and we won’t have to face the political fallout that would come from charging him criminally.) You can find the article at http://jezebel.com/5742679/sexual-assault-and-the-super-bowl. You can also read an excellent piece by Jackson Katz about how to talk to young men about Roethlisberger here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackson-katz/what-to-say-to-boys-and-y_b_817291.html?ref=fb&src=sp )
Some people argue that athletes are no more abusive than other men, but that because they live higher profile lives that their violent acts are also higher profile and hence receive more attention. And given that 1 in 4 women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, perhaps it is more useful for us to focus on the behavior of all men, and not just on the tiny fraction of men who are professional athletes.
But what we do know, and what bears repeating, is that some of the men whom we revere as gods of the gridiron can and do commit rape. And that is not acceptable. Men who rape are no heroes of mine. And they should be heroes to no one.
But what about other forms of violence against women? Some reports have brought attention to the issue of the trafficking of women and girls to cities that host the Super (?) Bowl for the purpose of prostitution. Newsweek magazine is reporting that law enforcement is preparing to crack down on this issue in Dallas, and that at the 2009 Super(?) Bowl in Florida that authorities freed 24 children who had been trafficked into the area for the purposes of sexual slavery. (See: http://www.newsweek.com/2011/01/30/the-super-bowl-of-sex-trafficking.html A pro-Steelers blog has also addressed this serious issue: http://www.behindthesteelcurtain.com/2011/1/27/1958714/a-sobering-side-to-the-super-bowl) While it would be difficult to link the issue of trafficking directly to the sport of football (as opposed to, say, the Olympics or a political convention), it remains a grim reality that wherever large groups of men convene, there will be a demand for the buying and selling of women and children for sexual purposes.
And what about violence in the home? Several years ago there was a factoid that went around that suggested that calls to battered women’s shelters increased dramatically on Super(?) Bowl Sunday. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, a 2003 study by researchers at Indiana University at Bloomington examined police reports of domestic violence incidents in 14 cities. They found a small increase on Super (?) Bowl Sunday, but the increase was smaller than the increase that occurs on holidays such as Christmas or Memorial Day. So it would seem that while, yes, women are at increased risk during the Super (?) Bowl, the issue of family violence may be less directly connected to football than it is to the mere fact of families gathering to “celebrate.” (See: http://www.endabuse.org/content/features/detail/1004/)
Maybe sometimes the problem is what we men do not do on Super (?) Bowl Sunday! Several years ago I accompanied a friend who was a single mom to a pediatric emergency room where her young daughter needed treatment for pneumonia. It was Super (?) Bowl Sunday. The ER was full of sick and injured kids. It did not take long for me to notice that there were approximately 20 moms there but only one other man. Being someone who is interested in how (and even if) men involve themselves in childcare, I asked a nurse if the numbers were always so skewed. Were the parents who tended to accompany their kids to the ER always 90% female?
“No,” the nurse replied. “Normally it’s pretty close to 50-50. But today is the Super Bowl. It’s always like this when the Super Bowl is on.”
I was appalled! A kid has to go to the ER, but Dad doesn’t want to go because the game is on? I can just see it now:
“Daddy, when I had to go to the hospital to get stitches, how many did they give me?”
“I don’t know, kid. I wasn’t there. But the final score that day was 24-13.”