The Case Against The Super Bowl

I know, another provocative title. I thought it was funny, and that was my first impulse, to see if I might get a snicker out of some of my football fanatic friends and die-hard Super Bowl watcher acquaintances. But I realize now it’s more than just a gag. I really do have a case to make against The Super Bowl. But here are some confessions, to start with:

I don’t know who’s competing this Sunday.

I don’t know which roman numeral identifies this year’s big game.

I haven’t watched a Super Bowl since 1993, and on that day, some friends of mine were helping me move into my first home, had unpacked the little 13” Sony, plugged it in, and wired up an antennae for reception. A couple of my friends watched the game in the basement while I only glanced at the proceedings on a few occasions as I walked by the television with a box of stuff that needed unpacking.

Before 1993, I think I can honestly say that I don’t remember the last time I watched a Super Bowl competition. It has been since junior high, perhaps, when I still had some inkling of an interest toward competitive athletics. It was before I discovered playing rock and roll and theatre and reading, before those three endeavors would pretty much take me away from organized sports, in the same way they took me away from organized religion, forever.

Listen, because some of my friends, people for whom I have the utmost love and respect, are football fans, and because I understand that it does in fact take some skill, not to mention brute strength and force, to play the game of football well, I can’t say anything really terrible about the sport itself or the people who enjoy it. All I can do is make the case against this particular event from my own perspective. This is why I don’t watch the Super Bowl.

The money disgusts me. These guys are making tens of thousands or millions of dollars to move a ball from one end of the field to the other while the guys on the other team are making tens of thousands or millions of dollars by trying to prevent that ball from moving from one end of the field to the other. The guys on the other team do this by “tackling” whichever opponent has the damn ball. They, in turn, try to take possession of said ball so that they can attempt to do the same thing, to move a ball from one end of the field to the other. And while the money these guys make for moving a ball around a field is obscene, this incredibly insensitive reduction of the game into an apparently meaningless objective, nevertheless represents the way I feel about the game itself, about it’s potential interest or value as spectacle or entertainment.

So it bores me. I know, I know, occasionally, perhaps once or twice in a game, there might be a play of breathtaking beauty, skill, exceptional luck, or devastation. But what about the rest of the game? And what do people do during the wait? What do they talk about? Can they have serious talk or any conversation at all about other things while they’re watching? If they get distracted they might miss something, right? So I have this idea that people sit together in groups, sometimes in large groups, or as families, glued to the tube in silence for the potential of some high drama. I know I’m wrong about this—but it’s what I imagine and partly why I don’t watch.

Let’s go back to the money. The money advertisers spend disgusts me. It’s close to three million dollars, I understand, for a 30 second spot. These advertisers, I assume, believe that it must be worth it, so I shudder to think about the millions of people watching who might be doing something better with their time, being subjected to, and looking forward to being subjected to, this massive shock and awe style of commercialism. And I shudder again to think about the amount of money people spend as a result of the effectiveness of these 30-second entertainments inside the entertainment.

I find it sadly ironic. While part of what people do in watching football, or any televised sporting event, is to hold a kind of celebration of athleticism, most people celebrate this kind of activity by being totally inactive. Often, they do this while consuming mass quantities of chips and beer. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against chips and beer—if it weren’t for the football. And chips and beer, I suppose, are the proverbial tip of the iceberg in terms of calorie consumption on Super Bowl Sunday. People get fat watching other people exercise. Even though it’s kind of funny, it makes me sad.

And I think the big business of competitive athletics represents a microcosm of what is essentially wrong with our culture—we worship at the altar of competition. If we spent more time and money thinking about how to collaborate and help each other rather than beating down the other guy and winning, winning, winning, we might get somewhere; we might survive as a species. Our obsession with organized sports, our team loyalty, our hero worship, our hopes and prayers for the demise of the other guy—this kind of practice is worrisome to me and it pervades our society at every level. I know you’re calling me a dummy. Let’s have a football game where collaboration and cooperation between the competitors is the operative goal. That’s just stupid, Michael Jarmer.

You’re right. I don’t understand the game very well or at all. I’m not appreciative of the nuances of the sport. I’m overlooking the communal aspect, the social aspect, the aesthetics of the biggest football game of the year, the very real nostalgic buzz of watching the game you can no longer play because you’re too old or nowhere near skilled or lucky enough. That’s okay. I’m football illiterate and proud. Instead, I’ll read a book, watch season one of The Muppet Show with my son, or play in the yard if it’s sunny, or take a long drive along empty highways with the family. Something like that. Happy Super Bowl Sunday, anyway.

10 Comments

Filed under Culture, Writing and Reading

10 responses to “The Case Against The Super Bowl

  1. I am so with you! Better to compete against yourself, so you are always improving. And with any sort of ‘mass movement’ there is such a strong pressure to conform at all costs.

  2. Dear Michael,
    I have never watched a Super Bowl and only rarely have been in a house or apartment where one is on television. Growing up in Greenwich Village and going to NYC Public High School without athletic fields and only a track team. Actually, I’ve never watched a football game at all. I agree with you about the money. There is also the issue of life-long, sometimes only detected at a later age, physical (especially brain related) injury.

    On the other hand, many people I love watch. My daughter Erin watches and continues to follow the WVU team fanatically. Vicki, when she was married, spent most Friday evenings outdoors on a bench at the local high school game. Most of the adult spectators had probably graduated from that school and either had played themselves, had brothers or sons who did. I have heard truly disgusting stories of the alcohol consumption and rampant sexist language at WVU games, maybe most particularly on the part of geezer alums.

    I suppose if one of my grand kids plays in high school I may have a reason to go. That most likely would be in the autumn in Wild and Wonderful West Virginia, but they better invite me early in the season. I don’t think I’ll be out there in late seasons when it’s wet or snowy and cold as hell.

    • Thanks for bringing up the injury aspect. Despite the advancements in helmets and pads, these guys are abusing their bodies. I understand that many of them pay a heavy price for that. Yes, too, on the grandson thing. My little guy is six–and he hasn’t yet expressed interest but he has the personality of a kid who might, despite our best efforts, grow up to be a tackler of humans. Thanks for reading!

  3. Brian Cutler

    I get everything you are saying about the Super Bowl, the advertising, the money, the calories–all of it is nothing short of obscene. So why do I watch sporting events like this and others when they come around? Why don’t I spend that time pursuing the more lyrical components of my life?

    You can chalk part of it up to dualism. Like many people, my life is a curious series of conflicts that, when analyzed from a distant perspective, seem well beyond congruent. But it’s true. I like sports cars and minivans. I like bluegrass and soul music. Boxers AND briefs (often at the same time, but that’s another matter).

    But my affection for sports is most likely rooted in–and you may choose not to believe this–civility.

    When you take away the enlarged salaries, advertizing agencies, and egos, you are left with a game. This game has an established set of rules and a small collection of adjudicators (referees) to ensure the game is conducted fairly. When the game is played well and the outcome is deemed fair by all competitors, the result satisfies a basic need in many humans to be competitive. The winners are elated for certain stretch of time. The losers are disappointed for a while but remain committed to the sport and to each other.

    But here’s the thing: they didn’t kill each other. They didn’t take land, rape women, and make orphans out of children. Since we lived in caves, our default setting has been to engage one another to the death. I believe sport, when pursued with a pure heart, redirects that default setting toward something more productive…even more collaborative.

    Have sports eliminated war? Of course not. But I believe we live in a more peaceful world because we can compete on the field of play rather than the field of battle.

    Brian Cutler

    • This is lovely, Brian. Truly, I had never thought, especially with a game like football, that civility had anything to do with it, not in the way you mention here. I also love this duality idea. You’re one of those guys who loves football that I’d never peg as a guy who loves football. But briefs? I have to part ways with you on that. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond, you brilliant person, you.

      • Oh, Brian, but there is this one thing I wanted to ad. I don’t know if the obscene amounts of money make it possible to approach sport with a pure heart. Can players do that when there’s that kind of cash involved? Can spectators do it, especially those who agree that the cash is obscene? By participating, or trying to participate, with a pure heart, you’d kind of have to be very forgetful. I think our participation is tacit approval. Can we ever get back to that kind of purity? If we could, I’d be all over it.

  4. Brian Cutler

    Right you are, Michael. Perhaps the last time football was pure was when a group of upperclassmen at Harvard approached a band of upstarts at Yale in 1894 and declared, “We shall meet you on the public greensward at noon. And we will thrash you soundly.”

    But seriously, I think purity of sport (and heart) can be found at the high school level–especially in minor sports. And in womens’ sports. Go to a fast-pitch softball game (like PSU v. Willamette) this spring and watch great fundamental ball being played by non-scholarship athletes. They’re doing it because they love the game and because they support each other. They are dedicated to a very abstract goal, which is some kind of regional college championship. There is no “next level” to which they aspire. It’s about loving the game.

  5. I believe you’ve missed one of the most important aspects of football and other sports: by associating themselves with a team, people who feel they have little to hope for or few opportunities to win in their lives have a way to feel like they aren’t losers (all the time), and can feel good about themselves and their lives when nothing else is giving them that message. I grew up in a dilapidated region in northeastern Massachusetts, next to a former textile / mill city and there just wasn’t much good news for families around there the whole time I was growing up. I am still friends or in touch with some of the guys I went to high school with, and a couple of them expressed euphoria and anxiety as the game approached (yesterday; they are New England Patriots fans, and the Patriots played the New York Giants yesterday in the Super Bowl). One of them wrote this on Facebook:

    “You’d think I was playing tomorrow…….. butterflies starting already…….. guess its just my competative nature! LOL”

    “Don’t know bout you guys but I’m having a difficult time waiting for the game! I can only compare it to ummmmm christmas eve when I was a kid! LOL”

    One of my friends (“The Dancer”) was a peer in high school – good grades, good attitude, a bit ambitious, went to college. He was best man at one of my weddings. But he was thrown out of college, joined the Navy, then became a machinist. I’m not rich, but my home office is about as large as his house. He rescues old bulldogs when he can. He’s been married a bunch of times. He’s missing teeth. His idea of fun is a motorcycle ride into the White Mountains. Here is what he wrote yesterday on Facebook at half time:

    “Celts win!!!! Bruins Win!!!! Pats take a halftime lead!!!! We are living in the best place in the world!!!! GO PATS”

    Here are the ways he wins in his life: He has his girlfriend, he has his dogs, he has his motorcycle, he mostly has a job, and he has his teams. Like me, he’s old.

    When a Boston team loses, many people in the region feel like losers. Because the Red Sox didn’t win a World Series since 1918 (they won in 2004), people there believed the region had become cursed (Curse of the Bambino) when the team sold the rights to Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. Here is what Wikipedia says about this curse and the region:

    “The curse had been such a part of Boston culture that when a road sign on the city’s busy Storrow Drive (locally called “Sorrow Drive” – it goes past Fenway) was vandalized from “Reverse Curve” to “Reverse The Curse,” officials left it in place until after the Red Sox won the 2004 Series.”

    In 2004 stores sold out of Red Sox World Series championship banners as boys and men placed them on the headstones of the fathers and grandfathers who had never known the Red Sox as winners. I did it for my father.

    There’s a lot of misery out there; … just aren’t that many ways to exult from great success for many people. It’s a pity money has found its way into sports the way it has.

    The Dancer wrote after the game: “That sucked!!!! goodnight everyone!!! Pitchers and catchers report in 13 days.”

    • A brilliant response, Richard. Thanks for that. I have nothing in my own experience to compare to this. No, that’s not true. It’s the way I’ve felt about music all of my life, listening to new records, going to shows, performing. Those are my teams. Those are my big wins.

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