Can you imagine turning on a TV program to watch commercials? On Sunday, January
31, nearly 10 million TV viewers will do just that? They told survey takers that
they will tune in Super Bowl XXXIII not to watch the Denver Broncos battle the Atlanta
Falcons for one of the sports worldís most prized crowns, but to watch the commercials.
They'll indulge their odd fascination with advertisements because they know that
the biggest names in the corporate world will duke it out to pay more than $1.5 million
for each of the 58 thirty second spots during the game and will create eye-catching
spots for the air. The advertiser's money will be well spent. The estimate is that
nearly one billion viewers in 150 countries will watch the game. Fox-TV, which will
televise this year's Super Bowl, will haul in about $140 million from the commercial
gorging off the game.
The windfall that NFL owners, TV executives, and corporations rake in from public
mania over the Super Bowl tells much about the otherworldly intoxication of pro football.
The pro football superstar is the closest thing to a bonafide Demi-God in American
life. He is the instant repository of the dreams, delusions, and fantasies of a public
desperately in need of vicarious escape. Pro football heroes seduce, stroke, and
comfort the public. He is expected to operate above the fray of human problems and
pain. He is expected to raise society's aspirations. Society rewards him for what
he is, not who he is.
The price for this adulation is to win, win, win. Coaches and players know this better
than anyone. The carnage of failed pro football coaches splattered the sports landscape
between 1996 and 1998 when 21 coaches were canned. A record six coaches were dumped
in one swipe following the 1998 season. And despite the myth of the greedy, spoiled,
and grossly overpaid athlete, many football players fare even worse. They are cut,
traded, often humiliated, and intimated by coaches and management, and their playing
days (and pay) can be measured not in fairytale-like careers but in single digit
While football teaches much of value such as cooperation, organization, achievement
and heroism, it also breeds competition, greed, selfishness and aggression. Worse,
because the game is America's main fake masculinity ritual of passage it is rife
with sexism and misogyny. The male fans that sit in the stands and at home engage
in ritual bonding. They identify with players, assume their personality and have
a socially-approved outlet to act out aggression, often times against women. The
staff at women's shelters routinely put extra operators on their hot lines during
the Super Bowl every year to handle the increased number of complaints of spousal
A football team resembles a military camp with a rigid hierarchy, defined roles,
iron-clad rules, and an emphasis on discipline and order. This yearís crop of Super
Bowl stars, John Elway, Terrell Davis, and Jamal Anderson, are prized players who
nestle atop football's pyramidal pecking order. They are guaranteed fame, glory,
wealth, and adulation, and the memories of their on-field exploits remain frozen
in the minds of many fans in near perpetuity.
But one misstep can instantly topple them from the heroes' pedestal. Mercury Morris,
Doug Williams, Dexter Manley, Tom "Hollywood" Henderson, Duane Thomas,
and Joe Gilliam were Super Bowl players of years gone-by who were denied opportunities
in the game because of discrimination or fell from grace because of their misdeeds.
While they are perennial reminders that sports icons are fragile, and can be broken,
they are the exceptions. If they weren't viewers wouldn't spend a minute and advertisers
wouldn't spend a nickel on a game that they didn't consider super. Even if they have
to create myths to make sure that it stays that way.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black. email:ehutchi344@aol.
Available through your vendor:
Middle Passage Press
Tel: (213) 298-0266
Fax: (213) 291-6324