Approaching the 93’ Super Bowl, media outlets spread a public health warning concerned for women. A rumor spread that women who experience domestic abuse are at a heightened risk during the Super Bowl. However, reporters later found this claim, coined the “abuse bowl,” to be entirely ill-supported. This article will chronicle the roots of the rumor and highlight the harmful repercussions of such claims.
The roots of the rumor
Snopes fact-check details the origin of the “abuse bowl” rumor. Accordingly, the Thursday before Super Bowl Sunday, women’s rights advocates and media representatives coalesced for a conference. Their focus narrowed from contemporary women’s issues to domestic abuse and the Super Bowl. Specifically, an individual speaking from the California Women’s Law Center offered a finding that promoted urgency.
“Sheila Kuehl of the California Women’s Law Center cited a study done at Virginia’s Old Dominion University three years before, saying that it found police reports of beatings and hospital admissions in northern Virginia rose 40 percent after games won by the Redskins during the 1988-89 season.”
Following, this finding quickly moved from conference rooms to media outlets. From mail advertisements to New York Times articles, the public warned at-risk women to stay away from their partners during the Super Bowl, calling it the “abuse bowl.”
Dispelling the rumor
However, following these outcries, a Washington Post journalist did more digging. When contacting the researchers at Virginia’s Old Dominion University and professionals cited from other sources, attempted fact-checking fell through. In reality, no data suggested significantly higher rates of DV on Super Bowl Sunday. Further, all researchers and psychologists denied related claims. At the end of the day, it was simply a rumor– but a harmful rumor, nonetheless.
Understanding the rumor’s initial appeal and lasting impact
Why did this myth stick? And why is it harmful? I asked two seasoned professionals in domestic abuse advocacy to help answer these questions. Fist, I spoke with Courtney Kolb, the recourse coordinator at Nashville’s Metro Office of Family Safety. Then, I interviewed Whitney Blanton, the director of Nashville’s Jean Crowe Advocacy Center.
Why did this myth stick?
These professionals believe that toxic masculinity surrounding men’s sports and over-consumption of alcohol are two factors that exacerbated this rumor.
Blanton explains how our society associates men’s sports, especially football, with toxic masculinity. Thus, when thinking about football, imagines of male aggression and violence quickly come to mind. Following, to the outside world, it seems reasonable to suggest that watching such testosterone-filled may elicit abusive behaviors.
Additionally, Kolb suggested the prevalence of alcohol is an important factor. Kolb explained that our society often falsely perceives that alcohol will cause abuse. Following, the Super Bowl Sunday imagine of men over-indulging in alcohol flashes into mind, aligning with the idea that intoxication often precedes abuse. Meaning, because this imagine aligns with society’s imagine of a drunken abuser, it was less likely to be challenged.
Why is this rumor harmful?
Kolb and Blanton cited two reasons why this rumor is so harmful to victims and survivors of domestic abuse, First, this rumor harmfully shifts the blame of domestic abuse onto external factors, such as aggressive sports and alcohol. Additionally, focusing on one day that domestic abuse occurs ignores the reality that individuals experience abuse 365 days of the year.
Alcohol alone does not cause domestic abuse
Kolb explained that while intoxication may be one risk-factor to escalating abuse, lowered inhibition doesn’t cause a habitually not abuse partner to become abusive. Domestic abuse does not occur in isolated incidents nor without habitually abusive tendencies. Instead, abusive partners will often use alcohol as an excuse for their abusive actions. For instance, perpetrators may say they don’t remember the incident or promise the abuse will never happen again that they will stop drinking and the abuse will never happen again. For these reasons, positioning alcohol as a cause of abuse harmfully shifts the blame away from the perpetrator of the abuse.
Incidents of domestic abuse occur 365 days a year
Further, Blanton, points out that “focusing on the abuse that happens on one single day downplays the daily occurrences of domestic abuse that 1 in 4 women experience.” Though there are certain trends of when individuals are more likely to disclose abuse and seek services (Mondays, during the summer, etc.), these trends are not due to when the abuse actually occurs. Instead, reporting trends are influenced by external factors, such as when services are available and the prospect of changing living situations with children.
Additionally, statistics show that most individuals will experience many instances of abuse before seeking help. SafeLives cites that “on average, victims will experience 50 incidents of abuse before receiving effective help.” Domestic abuse occurs every day, and it is harmful to minimize risks to a single day.
The “abuse bowl” myth underscores several important reminders. First, to fact-check claims in the media, even those that “make sense.” Oftentimes, what is intuitive is perpetuating harmful social scripts. Additionally, we must push back on narratives that paint domestic abuse as isolated incidents incited by external factors, rather than an imbalance of power and control that abusers habitually perpetrate. Lastly, looking forward, whether it’s Super Bowl Sunday or a random Sunday in July, domestic abuse must be treated as the life-threatening, public health issue it is.