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Superbowl Myth Has More Lives Than A Cat
February 9, 2005
by Trudy W. Schuett

Just three days before the 1993 Super Bowl game, a news conference was called in Pasadena. There Sheila Kuehl, an attorney for the California Women's Law Center, stepped to the podium to report some shocking news: according to a study by Old Dominion University, emergency room admissions of women rose by 40% following football games won by the Washington Redskins.

Media representatives got the warning that Super Bowl Sunday is "the biggest day of the year for violence against women." Soon a media advisory went out warning women, "Don't remain at home with him during the game."

The next morning, Friday January 29, psychologist Lenore Walker appeared on Good Morning America and repeated the same frightening news.

By Saturday, the hysteria had reached a fever pitch. A January 30 Boston Globe article claimed that women's shelter and hotlines are "flooded with more calls from victims than on any other day of the year."

Just before the coin flip for the big game, NBC ran a 30-second spot reminding men that domestic violence is a crime.

Then the Washington Post decided to do a little detective work. Post reporter Ken Ringle called Janet Katz, one of the researchers from Old Dominion University, to verify the claim. "That's not what we found at all," Katz responded. To the contrary, she said any increase in emergency room admissions "was not associated with the occurrence of football games in general."

Ringle's report, "Wife Beating Claims," appeared on the front page of the Washington Post on January 31. This was the upshot of the story: the assertion that watching football games provokes men into a frenzy of wife-beating was actually a hoax.

Within hours, Lenore Walker and the Boston Globe reporter pulled back on their original claims, admitting they hadn't seen the original study. On February 2, the Boston Globe ran a retraction.

Later the Family Violence Prevention Fund would conclude, "Although there are claims linking sports broadcasts to increased violence and abuse, no rigorous national studies have confirmed a link."

The Super Bowl hoax is now cited in journalism textbooks as a case study in ways the media can mislead the public. But that doesn't stop the myth from being endlessly recycled.

Two years later, one NBC affiliate urged all women to pack a suitcase the evening before the Super Bowl, in case hubby got a little violent. Look around, and you will find the Super Bowl myth reported as "fact" in books, newspaper articles, and TV stories.

Just last year on January 30, Rebecca Cohn, member of the California State Assembly, issued a chilling press release. "Calls to domestic violence shelters jump by a 40% increase on Superbowl Sunday," according to the release. Not only that, "Attempted murders increase by 40% the week following the Superbowl game." Amazing how that 40% figure keeps popping up all the time.

The factual errors and shrill tone of Cohn's press release makes one wonder if the intent was to alarm and frighten, not educate and inform.

So how do we explain the creation and continuation of this domestic violence hoax?

Turns out, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware had been working since 1990 to get a law passed that would increase federal involvement in protecting battered women.

In 1994, one year after the press conference was called in Pasadena, the Violence Against Women Act was signed into law. The Act not only provided $3.5 billion in funding for programs to assist battered women, but also defined domestic partner abuse as "gender violence," suggesting that only women are at risk. In another, less politically-correct era, this law never would have been passed, as some believe it violates the equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

Ten years later, the practical result is a law that discriminates against male victims, and refuses to acknowledge the existence of abusive women who need help.

The Violence Against Women Act will expire later this year, and domestic violence advocates are expected to introduce renewal legislation within the next few months.

So what propaganda-like stunts will they try to pull this time around?

See also

  1. http://endabuse.org/programs/display.php3?DocID=262
  2. http://www.snopes.com/crime/statistics/superbowl.asp

Trudy W. Schuett is the publisher of the DesertLight Journal, a blog focused on domestic violence issues, and an advocate for unserved victims since 1999.

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