Why I’m Boycotting the Super Bowl

I grew up the old-fashioned way which meant every Sunday was the Lord’s Day. We got to church at 8:45am and didn’t leave until 5pm. When we called it All Day For God we weren’t exaggerating.

Back then, when I heard about the dangers of contact sports, it was more about imperiling our immortal souls than it was about bodily injury. Skipping church to watch football (or participate in sports ourselves) robbed God of the worship we owed Him. We made a big deal about the Scottish runner, Eric Liddell, whose famous refusal to compete on a Sunday was portrayed in the movie, “Chariots of Fire.” That was true Christian character, we said.

I’m still very uncomfortable with American football–although not so much because I believe playing sports on Sunday dishonors the Sabbath (I think it’s possible to play sports and honor the Sabbath). My current distaste for football stems from a belief that football glorifies violence and shows little regard for the permanent, life-altering effects of brain injury.

Furthermore, I can no longer watch the Super Bowl because by doing so I give silent approval to sickening, sexist advertising. Matthew Vos, a sociology professor, wrote:

I contend that the way we consume iconic national events like the Super Bowl better depicts what we really believe about women and their so-called roles than do our formal theological statements, denominational position papers, teachings about the spiritual disciplines, and admonitions toward modesty and fidelity. For in the invisibility of normality, there we find our idolatry. And in my experience, theology can’t touch the Super Bowl. Churches near where I live cancel evening services for it, and some even project the festivities on sanctuary screens….women are depicted in the Super Bowl and other televised mega-sports in ways that proclaim, “This world is for men, about men, and because of men. You women may participate, but only in forms that are pleasing to men.”

This year, I’ve decided to boycott the Super Bowl because I want to embody a better story. Like Matthew Vos pointed out in his article, “the story we tell outside of church is so much more important than the story we tell inside of church.” In other words, by sitting down to watch and celebrate this iconic American event, what story am I telling my children?

I’m increasingly convinced that by watching the Super Bowl I tell my children it’s good and acceptable to sacrifice their bodies for sport–especially if there’s enough money involved. And by watching the Super Bowl I tell my children it’s good and acceptable to reduce women to mere objects as portrayed in the commercial advertisements.

I really don’t even think it’s enough to mute the TV or change channels during the commercials. I’ve heard some parents say they watch the commercials with their children as an object lesson. But I grew up without a TV and had no problem spotting the sexist advertising once I did get a TV. I don’t need to expose my children to harmful images and ideas in order to teach them why it’s morally reprehensible.

Besides, the most effective form of parenting is modeling healthy, moral behavior. Children might hear what we say, but they do what we do.

I can sit here all day and talk about why a commercial is sexist and sickening–but I’m still watching it. I believe a more powerful story means simply abstaining altogether. 

I am a conscientious objector to the Super Bowl.

thanks to my readers for bringing my awareness to this related tragedy:  “The Super Bowl is the single largest human trafficking event in the United States” –Texas Atty. General Greg Abbott  

Former sex trafficking victim shines light on dark underworld of Super Bowl

  • http://twitter.com/byzcathwife priest’s wife

    I don’t even know the hours it will be on (no cable…not sad)- but we could live-tweet what we are doing with our real lives instead of watching tv sports and ADS (this is my problem with it) #lifenotsuperbowl

  • Allison Grace

    Sports is America’s god. We despise it all: the sexism, the foolishness, the pedastal, and especially the obscene amount of money these “men” make ~ for what? We don’t follow, watch, purchase anything related (and we have 5 good sons, aged 18 to 3, who are plenty “rough and tough!”). We’re with you!

  • http://twitter.com/insertwittyquip Marie

    This is thought-provoking. I am a pacifist but I’ve never connected the violence of sports to my beliefs. Thanks for writing!

  • KatR

    I’ve definitely been a football fan, but the more we learn about concussions and the long term effects of those hits, the harder it is to justify the game (and yes, players coming up now can make the choice about whether or not to play based on the detriment to their health,, but the NFL kept a lid on research that could have helped players YEARS ago make that choice).

    I had already decided not to watch the Super Bowl this year, because the ads have been so sexist the past several years that I have ended up enraged rather than amused (Go Daddy has been especially atrocious). If CBS continues to engage advertisers that have no problem insulting me, I don’t see why I should watch their programming.

    I’m watching the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet instead.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ian.israel Ian Israel

    I think i just found the Symbol Of Salvation.
    *Snarky Sarcasm Intended.*

  • Anna

    Are you aware that Super Bowl Sunday is also the highest-volume day of the year for sex trafficking in the US? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/super-bowl-sex-trade_b_1198168.html

  • Kelly

    Football is a contact sport where athletes that love the game, are paid extremely well to take on the risk of an occasional injury. People watch football because it is a form of controlled combat played out on the grid iron battlefield. A kind of modern day gladiators. We love to see men go to war(in a sense). We don’t watch it to ogle the women on the commercials. But no worries, I can see the NFL is well on its way to being chickified. Next on the chopping block, boxing and mma my personal favorite. By letting my kids watch I am showing them what can be achieved through extreme dedication, hardwork and passion for something they love.

    • Anonymous

      There was good reason early Christians refused to attend gladiator games in Rome. They understood that blood sport was not moral entertainment–regardless of how much “extreme dedication” it took to wield a weapon well enough to slaughter another person. If people watch football because they love seeing men “go to war,” then football glorifies war and violence. From a Christian point of view, just because we LIKE watching something doesn’t make it morally acceptable.

      • Kelly

        Thanks for replying
        Not the even close to being the same. No one gets slaughtered in football, the people playing are happy participants. Gladiators were captured soldiers forced to fight to the death against their will. Shouldnt try to insert a moral component where there is none. By the way UFC 156 on right now. Magnificent athleticism on display. Lovin it.

        • Mara

          “I can see the NFL is well on its way to being chickified.”

          This is another reason I don’t get involved in these sports.

          If it were just about athletes who love the game and who excel at it, it might not turn me off so much because I love to watch that as well.

          What I have grown to hate about professional football is the attitude that is expressed in your comment that I quoted above.

          It is the worship and idolization of extreme and hyper-masculinity by regular guys ranging from 98 lbs weaklings to week-end warrior guys who froth at the mouth over so much testosterone and are willing to pay tons of money, hand over fist, to live vicariously through their favorite ‘super’ guy. It approaches Baal worship, or the worship of power.

          I might not have said anything. But the use of your word “chickified” betrays your disdain for the feminine, something that, if you are Christian, you really should look into. Because dismissing and insulting the legitimate concerns of your sisters only further displays the misogyny you have picked up from our culture.

          • Anonymous

            “willing to pay tons of money, hand over fist”–yes! We believe strongly in taking care of the body through exercise/sport, but football is so very violent. It’s the only sport my husband has put a moratorium on for our kids. There are too many head injuries. But the culture of money money money, the unconscionable cost of tickets and concessions, advertising–there are so, so, so many better uses of our wealth.

      • BobChaos23

        Except of course the gladitorial games became MORE bloody after the Roman Empire was taken over by christians, not LESS.

        Oh, and the whole Superbowl = Sex Trafficking correlation has been debunked, but then, who needs facts?

    • Rachel

      The NFL hid evidence of CTE from players, several of whom (Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, Andre Waters) have been diagnosed after committing suicide (the symptoms include suicidal depression and early-onset dimensia, but it can only be diagnosed through brain autopsy). Ta-Nehisi Coates has done a great job covering this in the Atlantic: http://m.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/01/the-nfls-response-to-brain-trauma-a-brief-history/272520/

  • http://turquoisegates.com/ Genevieve Thul@Turquoise Gates

    I will be watching. BUT it is so disturbing to me that this is the day of the highest rate of sex trafficking in the U.S. Mostly, I don’t feel like conscientiously objecting would change anything about that. But perhaps I am just apathetic and cynical. :-(

    • BobChaos23

      But not cynical enough to look up whether the Superbowl = Sex Trafficking correlation is even real?

  • http://leahielliott.blogspot.com/ Leah

    My church is doing Soup-er Bowl Sunday, a luncheon with soups and bread and taking a freewill offering to fight hunger in our area. I don’t think you could pay me enough to sit through the Superbowl. I watched part of it one year to see what all the fuss was about, but the appeal of it is completely incomprehensible to me.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post!

  • http://www.lilyamongthornsblog.blogspot.com/ Rubi Ruiz

    THANK YOU. This is why I’m an objector to the Super Bowl too.

  • Morgan

    Thank you for writing this. I respect your position and your decision to boycott the Super Bowl. After reading this I felt led to write about all of the good things the Super Bowl brings to the community and those involved.

    Why I Watch The Super Bowl http://theveryworstfeminist.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/why-i-watch-the-super-bowl/

    • Kelly


    • http://www.adamshome.blogspot.com Erin Adams

      Thanks for linking, Morgan. Both EE’s post and your post are things I am chatting with my husband about today. Great to hear your side!

    • Anonymous

      Hi, Morgan! Thanks for your respectful contribution to this discussion. I read your post and thought it was very insightful. Lots to think about. Thanks for the thoughtful counterpoint.

    • Anonymous

      Morgan, I really respect your respectful contribution to this discussion. I read your post and it was very insightful. Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Elizabeth.

  • Anonymous

    I love this post. Agreed completely! It seems hard to find people that feel the same way, so thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/DavidZgurski David Zgurski

    The problems with football in North America are too many to discuss. Each one merits it’s own 500-page book. I’m not a Christian or even a theist, but one of my many reasons for boycotting the Super Bowl, and really the entire NFL, is the “deification” of players and coaches. The sports media in North America has done a miraculous job of protecting players, coaches, team management and the league itself from organized opposition and criticism. The league is non-denominational, so it can claim to be the religious comfort food of all Americans, and when faced with serious issues, the media rallies to protect all the “good guys” in the league who do their charitable work and who are role models to the young ‘uns. The same media will excoriate Lance Armstrong, and deny Barry Bonds the Hall of Fame because of steroid issues. The NFL, however, is untouchable.

    This is a league that still allows Michael Vick to play, and he could easily play on a Super Bowl team next year. I’m not saying Vick isn’t beyond redemption and forgiveness, but the league and most of the media will not allow him to face criticism that his sentence was too short, his punishment from the commissioner a joke, his crimes so vile only a truly sadistic man could have committed them, and his contriteness non-existent. The league clearly had TV ratings in mind when they reinstated him, and if that is their priority, then they should drop the “player as role-model” nonsense. That cover has protected Ray Lewis and others with checkered backgrounds involving murders and violent crime.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers recently cut running back Chris Rainey because of an arrest for domestic abuse, but damned if I could find a mainstream discussion of how head injuries put a lot of the partners of NFL players in danger while they are playing and after they retire. If the issue of men beating their partners when they watch football has ever been brought up, I’ve never seen it discussed without an NFL spokesman laughing it off. Most of the media will laugh it off, too, because their audience includes the same men who are beating their wives.

    I’m an atheist but I’ve objected openly to my relatives (to very rude responses) that the NFL wrongly takes the one day most families have to be together and transforms it into a gambling, drinking, gluttonous celebration of the most violent sport in North America (and a celebration of the league that facilitates and enables it all.) In my family, the Super Bowl IS sacred. You sit down with the food and the beer before game time, and glue your eyeballs to the HD screen through the pre-game ceremony, the national anthem, all the NFL self-congratulation, the insincere salute to the military, and finally the game. Then there’s the half-time show as routinely-uninspiring as it always is, and the post-game presentation of a meaningless trophy. Even if the game is terrible, the half-time show embarrassing, the commercials annoying, no one is allowed to change the channel, change the volume except up, and the whole think does resemble a religious service, albeit with food and non-stop cursing at the TV screen because, you know, the guys have to have money on the game.

    The Roman Gladiator analogy is very accurate: many black youths are brainwashed by sports culture almost from birth to see sports, especially football, as the only way out of their impoverished communities. NCAA scouts looking to match players to scholarships bring these young men into a world where they will not receive any compensation for the obscene amount of money the league makes on their football programs, and most of them will not be drafted or play in the NFL. They are left with a college degree that is as useful as it is to a graduate who paid his/her own way, disillusionment, and head injuries. North America has created a culture that has sanctified football as an untouchable institution; a privilege no other organization has ever enjoyed.

    • Mara

      Hello, David. You kind of came to this Super Bowl party late and I think a lot of people will miss your comment. So I hope you don’t mind that I cut and pasted it into a blog post along with some other links. I linked to here, and gave you credit.

    • Anonymous

      Excellent points! Thanks so much for weighing in, David!