Why Is The Super Bowl Super?

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Ph.D.

Celebrate Black History

Earl Ofari Hutchinson


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 seasons.

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 violence.

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. com

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