Today we will witness that annual American event, a distant progeny of the Roman Colosseum era, the Super Bowl. Coincidently each year the bowl is numbered in Roman numerals.

This over-the-top yearly demonstration of First World excess, with the incredible hoopla before and during the so-called game, lends itself to an exercise in social analysis.

As we know, the first step in the process of social analysis is a diagnosis of an event, a situation, a reality on any level of human life. There is no immediate judgement or suggested action in this reporting – “just the facts.”

Here, then, are data of Super Bowl LVII without commentary, which, it is hoped, will lead to the other two steps in a full social analysis where the specifics of a situation are judged and appropriate actions decided on.

(Full disclosure: the dollar statistics cited here are the best that can be determined as this is being written.)

Super Bowl LVII:

  • Number of TV viewers based on the 2022 bowl attendance: 112.2 million.
  • Stadium ticket prices: Average – $6,700; most expensive – $37,000; cheapest – $4,300; 50-yard line – $29,000.
  • Estimated cost of the military jets flyover at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona: $450,000.
  • Betting on the Super Bowl: $16 billion.
  • TV coverage begins: 1:00 pm (ET)
  • Game time: 6:30 pm (ET)
  • Length: three hours and fifteen minutes, plus ½ hour half-time show.
  • Time of actual game: on average, 11 minutes with each play taking between 4 and 12 seconds.
  • Number of TV advertisements: between 80 and 100.
  • Cost of each TV advertisement: $7 million for 30 seconds.
  • Bonus for each winning player: $150,000; for each losing player: $75,000; for cheerleaders: reportedly, minimum wage.

This is what is called “the greatest football game on Earth.” (The game we call “soccer” is actually known as “football” everywhere else in the world.)

Decidedly, American “football” is a violent sport at every level where it is played. In the National Football League, the average weight of the contestants is 245 pounds with 500 of them weighing over 300. A physicist at the University of Nebraska has calculated the impact of two “medium-sized” players, who can run 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, hitting helmet-to-helmet on a “routine” tackle. He concluded that the impact is the equivalent of a 16-pound bowling ball falling on each of them from a height of 12 feet.

A measure of the effects on the participants of such a spectacle is reported in an ongoing study at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center. There they conduct research on degenerative brain disease in people with a history of concussions, in particular those who play American football. Their symptoms include degenerative memory loss, erratic behavior, marital problems, personality changes and Parkinson’s disease. Its most recent findings reveal that nearly 92 percent of ex-NFL players studied (345 of 376) suffered from some degree of CTE.

The estimated net worth of the National Football league is $91 billion. However, this week just three days before Super Bowl LVII, the Washington Post ran a three-page report entitled, “The NFL fights to avoid paying for disabled players’ care.” Much of the article relates in detail stories of disabled former players being denied compensation by the NFL, and at times only receiving help from the NFL after legal battles. The investigation revealed that “debilitated former NFL players continue to encounter a benefit plan, jointly managed by the league and the players’ union, that fights aggressively to deny claims…” There have been some 10,000 such claims since 2008.

This first step in the social analysis process leads to questions of judgement and action. Here, for example: what are the reasons for the enormous popularity of this particular game in our country? And significantly for people of faith and all people of good will: what is the morality of being even remotely a part of it?

Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.

6 thoughts on “Social analysis of today’s “big game” asks: What is the morality of being even remotely a part of it?

  1. Yes, Joe, this is so very true…. but you do know that the Super Bowl is the equivalent of a secular “liturgy” at its best. It is “the source and summit” of who we are as Americans. It calls us together as a Secular Community. The rituals (pizza, wings, gathering together for a super bowl party, the hype and all) do not get any better. Even those of us who do not like football are somehow sucked into the hype. It would be unAmerican not to….. Are we ever in trouble, eh?

  2. Thank you for providing the facts, Fr. Joe. I have long believed this so-called sport should be banned, though I know banning anything only makes it more appealing to some. People need to stop being used to help make some people or corporations extremely wealthy and other people permanently injured. It disheartens me to know how many good people I know personally participate in this annual modern-day gladiatorial ritual.

  3. Thank you for your expose into the football Superbowl. I would like to add those activities most don’t witness-human trafficking, the violence not only between players but that violence done to women and girls as cheer leaders reimbursed minimum pay, as victims of sexual exploitation through trafficking and added to the alter of sacrificial violence done in the name of “the all American sport”.

  4. Hey, good article.

    Cheerleaders: While a handful of ex-cheerleaders are multimillionaires, most are exploited. Anyhow, sports is a business. Like any business, labor and capital often have different objectives. Capital will usually seek to maximize profit at the expense of labor, and enlightened self interest is relatively rare. A pro player isn’t much different than a logger, mill worker, dairy worker, RN, CNA, psychiatric orderly, cop, fire fighter etc— hard jobs, DANGEROUS jobs that often lead to serious injury. Answer: strong unions, fair labor laws. Collective bargaining!

    Pro football pensions and health care have increased dramatically in recent decades. One big problem for the injured old timers is that the current players don’t want to reduce their revenue stream to help the old and injured.

    Excess: All those slick commercials, all those bets, all those parties, all that buzz generates tremendous wealth. Jobs jobs jobs. From poultry farmers to brewers to sports pubs to parking lot operators to franchise distributors to the guy peddling bootleg caps outside the arena. Compare and contrast Hollywood. The film industry is meretricious and venal. Many actors make your average athlete seem like Einstein, but Hollywood is a major job creator and a major source of export dollars. Sports are a major facet of the entertainment industry. They create a lot of jobs.

    Father Joe asks: “what are the reasons for the enormous popularity of this particular game in our country? And significantly for people of faith and all people of good will: what is the morality of being even remotely a part of it?”

    Here are some answers: 1) football is fun to play. Anyone who has ever played as a kid as I and millions other did know it is fun. 2) football is fun to watch because it’s complex and simple at the same time. Stuff happens constantly, unlike soccer, which can be tedious. American football rules are so simple a child can savvy yet so complex that people write books. 3) the morality? The game rescues millions from the tedium of humdrum life, the quiet desperation of drudgery, and the banality of the every day. 4) the game unites fans across all demographics. Our condo party last night was vastly more diverse on every level than anything I have ever seen in any church anywhere in the world, and certainly including Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, VA — by far. So yeah, it’s a secular liturgy than makes a High Mass look like a Quaker Meeting in comparison, but many people enjoy such pomp and circumstances. 5) it’s wonderful for the economy and for all its downsides it doesn’t involve nearly as dubious morality as selling weapons, unsustainably extracting resources, pushing opioids, or exporting obscene, ultra-violent films, among other not so wonderful things that businesses do daily.

    Football and the Super Bowl: Is it silly and over the top, wasteful and meretricious, dangerous for players, glitzy and gaudy? Of course! Sports at a pro level are ALL like this in varying degrees. But the positives outweigh the negatives and compared to so many other industries, pro sports isn’t so bad at all.

    But to sum up, most people dig this stuff because it’s FUN. So, the long faced Puritans who are fretting that someone somewhere is having a good time, will have their fears realized on Super Bowl Sunday, which is the summit of the American entertainment industry and a social unifying event second to none in America.

  5. Thanks for opening this up.
    And what about college football? Making money (for some) — probably not an academically-related sport. Can be fun, but don’t see the relationship with the purpose of a college or university.

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