On Sunday, an estimated 90 million Americans will gather around their television sets (many of them newly purchased $1,000 flat screens), consume copious amounts of food and drink (more than at any other time of year, other than Thanksgiving), and watch Superbowl XLIII--complete with commercials that run $3 million for 30-seconds of airtime. Another 17,000 super fans will watch from suite or club seats (priced at an historical high $1,000) and 54,000 will fill the regular seats (between $500 and $800) at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL (built with $11 million in community tax funding, among other sources). That is, of course, if they bought their tickets directly; if they got them scalped, they will probably pay upwards of $4,000--the average on StubHub last year. The week before kickoff, the Associated Press reports, lost wages will exceed $820 million as American workers talk, plan, and read about the big event ahead.
I like my chicken wings and blue cheese dip as much as the next person, but let's be honest, Sunday's festivities represent an incredible outpouring of resources. It's important to have fun, especially when the economy is faltering and we're all feeling a little anxious, but let's look at the extremity of investing millions in a violent sport. What message are we sending to our children when we say we don't have money for health care, or better schools or violence prevention but we always seem to find endless streams of dollars when it comes to entertainment?
In a more balanced society, we would be spending this kind of money--or even a fraction of it--on preventing violence, not perpetuating it. Those of us flush with cash should be bidding big bucks on tickets, not only for the Super Bowl, but also for charity events benefiting the victims of domestic violence or funding cutting-edge violence prevention programs.
We need to dedicate less energy and resources to play violence and more to addressing the real violence that is taking place in this country--in our schools, our homes, our most intimate relationships--and reach deep into our pockets and our hearts to take action to prevent it.
And lest you think I'm being hyperbolic about this country's on-going struggle with violence, let the facts scream louder than the diehard Steelers fans in the stadium this Sunday. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, women are the victims of more than 4.5 million violent crimes, including approximately 500,000 cases of rape or other sexual assault in the United States each year. The cost related to intimate partner sexual assault, physical assault, and stalking exceed $5.8 billion annually; nearly $4.1 billion is spent in direct medical and mental health care services, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first authorized in 1994 and co-authored by Vice President Joe Biden, is currently offensively underfunded. The VAWA provides funds for investigating and prosecuting crimes of violence against women, improving safe houses and shelters as well as support for the national domestic violence hotline. Despite a Congressional plea for funding increases, President Bush recommended only a $421.6 million budget for VAWA in fiscal year 2008--the equivalent of a little over one hour of Super Bowl commercials. Without additional funds, shelters will close and desperately needed services will be cut.
So, savor your chili and extra-large pizzas, enjoy the play-by-plays, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, but don't lose sight of the bigger picture. According to the FBI, an estimated 1,400 women die each year from injuries caused by domestic violence. The real underdogs in this country aren't the Arizona Cardinals, they are the countless mothers, wives and girlfriends, across differences of race, class and educational level, who face brutality from violent partners, the children who cover up bruises that weren't acquired on football fields, and the victims who are fighting to rebuild their lives in the wake of rape or sexual assault.
While we award trophies for high-stakes brutality, we must also recognize those who are working to reduce violence in our society and in our culture. We must pressure our political leaders and the Obama Administration to fully fund the Violence Against Women Act and ensure that respect for women's human rights are a pre-condition of international aid. We need to make sure that violence prevention efforts become as integral to our nation's schools as our football programs. Now that would be something worth cheering about.