As America’s banner sporting event, the Super Bowl naturally has its own mythology. Even people who don’t know the difference between a punt and a kick-off will break out the seven-layer dip and pick up a six-pack for the big day. It’s one of those rituals, like Black Friday, that has expanded into a kind of quasi-holiday in the USA.
What to do with non-sports fans at a Super Bowl party? Having made this mistake in the past, I can tell you right now that they do not want you to explain the game to them as it unfolds. If they’ve made it to age 30 without learning what a first down is, chances are good that they don’t care to know and, for many, the real fun of the Super Bowl lies in the moral preening. A few people go so far as to brag about not watching the game at all. Most, however, are content to come to the party, squint at the screen, and make a few dainty remarks about how “it really is such a violent game.” Then they wander away in search of the cheese cubes.
Super Bowl myths are mostly an outgrowth from all that pent-up disapproval, though they also gratify the non-fan’s need to find something to say about football on the one day each year he condescends to watch it. If you don’t want to discuss how the Seahawks’ top-ranked secondary will handle Peyton Manning’s stellar high-octane attack, it can be fun to argue about whether Super Bowl Sunday holds the record for pizza delivery (true), or whether it accounts for two-thirds of the year’s avocado sales (false). But most of the rumors seem to focus on the negative, and so, in the interests of helping fans defend themselves against the onslaught, here’s the skinny behind some of the most pervasive Super Bowl myths.
1) Night of the ten-thousand prostitutes
This myth is still perpetuated (including this year by Live Action’s Lila Rose) but there doesn’t seem to be anything in it. It was bequeathed to us from the Olympics, and seems to have fully flowered in Athens in 2004. As the tale goes, sex workers descend in droves upon the hosting city, looking to take advantage of fat wallets and hearty appetites. Some of us might enjoy the whiff of romance behind the Arabian-Nights-type legend of roving bands of alluring women. Mostly, though, Americans just seem ready to believe every ill report about the lusty appetites of the sports-loving American male. In any case, it isn’t true. Or if it is, the lovely ladies should be congratulated for their prowess in eluding law enforcement.
The nastiest version of this myth (which haunted the 2010 and 2011 Super Bowls) claims that the Super Bowl is a bonanza of trafficking, in which “tens of thousands” of young girls are sold into sexual slavery. Talk about a buzz-kill! But don’t let your football-hating friends ruin the party with these dire claims. No evidence of the burgeoning Super Bowl slave trade has ever surfaced.
2) The Abuse Bowl
Digging further into the archives of Super Bowl mythology, we come to the claim that the Super Bowl is “the biggest day of the year for violence against women.” Christina Hoff Sommers documented the furor surrounding this myth in her book “Who Stole Feminism?“. It broke in 1993, just before Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, when a coalition of women’s groups called a news conference to discuss a study claiming to show that violence against women had risen 40 percent following the 1988 Super Bowl. Reporters and women’s groups were quick to jump on the story. The NFL was encouraged to air a commercial encouraging men to stay calm, and Dobinsky Associates sent a mass mailing to women considered to be “at risk”, urging them keep a safe distance from their football-frenzied mates.
Further investigation proved these “day of dread” predictions to be, at best, wildly exaggerated. Super Bowl Sunday occasions no marked increase in domestic abuse reports, and unless you’re a chicken, you probably needn’t worry.
We all understand why this hoax was red meat for feminists, who are naturally inclined to see football as a tribal bloodbath for brutish American men. But personally, I think it should have been obvious from the beginning that it was a myth. Violence aside, what man wants to pick a fight with his wife when there’s an important game to be watched?
3) The Half-Time Flush
Moving from the malevolent to the merely disgusting, this old yarn claims that sewage systems across the country are threatened with stinky, sewage-filled disaster when millions of game watchers simultaneously make bathroom runs during half time. It dates back to 1984, when a water main did in fact burst in Salt Lake City on Super Bowl Sunday. The local news added color to the evening broadcast by speculating about a connection to the game, and a legend was born.
It’s true that the Super Bowl, with more than a hundred million viewers, is typically the most-watched television event of the year. Still, the plumbing of most American cities is equipped to handle high-volume flushage, and the Super Bowl halftime offers a longish period over which to distribute the action. If your guests are concerned about it, invite them to perform a public service by taking their bathroom break during the game itself.
4) The Stock Market
Root for the Seahawks if you want the Dow to go up. So says an old superstition which claims that the market gets a boost if the team representing the (mostly older) NFC vanquishes the upstart AFC challenger. Everyone likes to read their stock market tea leaves, and this story has a fairly good statistical track record, having panned out more than 80 percent of the time since 1967. Still, even for the superstitious and risk-happy, It might be better to let this one lie. The Broncos have already bucked it four times, and as individual teams go, have the best record with respect to stock market Super Bowl trends. Also, there are quite a few Asian butterflies still flapping their wings.
5) The Super Bowl hurts workplace productivity.
It’s less heinous (and more plausible) than the sex trade story, but still mostly hype. The idea, of course, is that football fans party hardy on Super Bowl Sunday and then take it easy at work the next day. It’s surely happened, but the evidence doesn’t really support the claim that Super Bowl Monday is our national Day of Slacking. If your football-hating friends gripe about this problem, point out to them that football is far less damaging to workplace productivity than dastardly activities like going to the bathroom, eating lunch, or talking about one’s weekend.
Even in studies ostensibly showing declining productivity, the evidence is weak. Glassdoor.com, a company that focuses on workplace issues, estimated that 3% of employees take a sick day following the Super Bowl, and said that 22% of employers thought that the day following the game was less productive than usual. Reading to the bottom of the piece, though, it seems that another 20% thought that the Super Bowl improved workplace morale, ultimately helping productivity. That seems like the sort of boost America could use in the middle of a dreary and heinously cold winter. All in all, it probably won’t be the Super Bowl that brings down the American economy.