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A Student's Perspective on The Super Bowl

Roger McCormack ’14, Staff Writer 

The Super Bowl is unquestionably America’s civic religious holiday, combining the least favorable aspects of American culture (consumerism and celebrity worship) with vulgar materialism. It should be noted that “culture” is used here in the loosest sense, and that reasons for not watching far outweigh participation in the yearly apogee of a bread and circuses regime, an event that uncannily mirrors Merrimack’s reigning cultural climate.

Take the extravagance of the various parties associated with the game. The ‘floating Bud Light hotel’ plays host to the prestigious rap group Run DMC, and punk-rock outfit Fall Out Boy. Meanwhile, ESPN will host such stellar acts as the American-Canadian crooner Robin Thicke, whose pro-rape ‘Blurred Lines’ is all the vogue (Snooki will also be in attendance). Bruno Mars, graced with the privilege of playing at half time, in a bona fide orgy of fawning, had this to say:

“I haven’t been able to take it in. Not yet. Come Sunday, I will”. and “NFL is such a prestigious stage…that they give the new guy a shot, and I’m so grateful for that.”

Leaving aside the  varieties of Super Bowl experience, citing empirical evidence of the game’s discontents enables a perspective slightly differing from the one preached by a vapid celebrity. ABC news reports on a Canadian study, attesting that:

“After studying traffic accidents on the last 27 Super Bowl Sundays, they found that, yes, accidents were higher after the game, compared both with regular Sundays and with the time periods before and during the game. This amounted to 1,300 more car crashes, 600 more injuries and seven more deaths nationwide in the hours after a Super Bowl ended.”

The cause, shockingly enough, was alcohol and fatigue. Here a perceptive reader will note that mass drunkenness is distinct from the game itself, and should in no way detract from a willing consumer to participate in the ceremony. However, there are other objections, principally philosophic ones, to the game.  Societal emphasis easily creates a system, such as the NCAA, in which students are exploited by coaches so schools may accrue exorbitant profit. ELLEN J. STAUROWSKY of the Atlantic writes, “conditions of the athletic scholarship and transfer rules, prohibitions against agents, limits on due process, failure to deliver on the promise to educate, the unobstructed selling of athlete images, and the like are tools of exploitation that benefit college sport leaders while oppressing those who perform on the field.”Moreover, scientific evidence shows that mental illnesses are increasingly correspondent to football’s violent nature. The New Scientist reports that “Brain autopsies on retired National Football League (NFL) players have previously shown levels of damage that are higher than those in the general population. Now, this damage has been correlated with performance in tasks related to reasoning, problem solving and planning and highlights the worrying impact of repeated head trauma.” Likewise this report by the Scientific American: “According to the research, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, National Football League (NFL) players surveyed who had sustained three or more concussions were three times as likely to develop clinical depression as players who had not suffered concussions.”  Displayed in Junior Seau’s suicide, this evidence continues to become more and more substantive.

Most interesting is the connection between intense devotion to sport, not to say obsession, and lack of individuality. Merrimack College provides a bevy of examples, as it exudes athlete worship in its campus life.

A visit to the school’s website, below pic of the day and information for students, offers updates on significant events happening on campus. The first two display a prospectus on how the men and women’s basketball teams are performing. Emails provide unremitting updates on athletic events. I defy anyone to find comparable emails with information on academic events at the college.  While sport has many good points, such as team solidarity, an unjustified prominence has a devaluing effect on other aspects of life. As a source of ethics, sports doubtlessly play a large and necessary role.

But, the phenomenon does sometimes seem inescapable, as the televisions in Sparky’s Place are habitually tuned to Sportscenter. Even during periods of intense political importance in the United States, such as the 2012 presidential election, SportsCenter remained the program of the day. (Though politics may present a worse alternative, and in that case please ignore the channel changing advice).

Notwithstanding Merrimack’s banality and lack of diversity, sport has other degrading aspects, perfectly encapsulated in Edward Gibbon’s study of Roman civilization, and the reasons he gave for the empire’s decline. Author of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, he offers something for both liberals and conservatives in the modern American Republic:

“The five marks of the Roman decaying culture. Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth. Obsession with sex and perversions of sex. Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original. Widening disparity between very rich and very poor. Increased demand to live off the state.”

Gibbon’s insights provide a perfect primer for the new Superbowl viewer, or newcomer to sport. (As do his insights into the Catholic Church: “it was much less dangerous for the Disciples of Christ to neglect the observance of the moral duties, than to despise the censures and authority of their bishops.”)

The wealth surrounding the NFL is ostentatious, and with a sizable homeless population in the United States, not to mention the many Americans who cannot afford health care, morally dubious.  Multimillion dollar contracts and a heightened scrutiny on athletes further worsen societal emphasis on civility, education, and civic duty. Focus on the common good is neglected, while sport contributes to a spirit of barbarism. The Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman articulated this mentality perfectly in his post NFC championship game rant:

“I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me. […] Don’t you open your mouth about the best or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick.”  Gibbon’s take on the Germanic tribes: “They delight in sloth, they detest tranquility,” really does spring eternal.

By valorizing violence and brute strength, lauding the military industrial complex in ads for Northrop Grumman and other Cheney-esque outfits, and contributing to a sense of jingoism and unrestrained consumerism, the Super Bowl and the cult of sport in the United States impoverishes the soul.

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