The Super Bowl: A Healthy Obsession?

I have to admit, I have trouble sitting through a whole football game. Even when the Cincinnati Bengals are playing, I tend to get uninterested and often fall asleep on the couch.  I can name our quarterback and a few other major players, but definitely not the entire roster.

But the rest of my family loves football. They gather around in our basement on Sundays and cheer when we win and complain when we lose. If the game isn’t sold out and gets blacked out, my dad and my sister will find tickets last minute and head downtown to the stadium.  They are committed to the team, the players and the pride that comes with it all.  And you can find this same enthusiasm and spirit all around America.

This passion is what has made football America’s favorite pastime, a title professional baseball once held. Thirty-one percent of Americans consider professional football their favorite sport, while only 17 percent chose professional baseball, according to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive. And catching up to that number is the 12 percent that favor college football. So what is it about football that puts it ahead of all other sports?

Perhaps it’s the fact that a good portion of Americans have short attention spans and tend to lose focus quickly. In football, there are only 16 regular season games, whereas in baseball, there are 162 games played, not including the playoffs, and 82 games are played in the NBA. Therefore, each football game has more of an effect on the season. Each one is a bigger deal. And attending the actual game is a special occasion.

At the end of the season comes the biggest sporting event of the year. The event advertisers are willing to pay $3.5 million on for a 30 second commercial spot.  The event watched by 111.3 million people. The Super Bowl.

David Tyree #85 of the New York Giants makes a catch with Rodney Harrison #37 of the New England Patriots hanging on in Super Bowl XLII.

The first Super Bowl was held on January 15, 1967 at the Los Angeles memorial coliseum.  Since then, the Super Bowl has grown into a national obsession. The day extreme football fanatics wait for and plan for throughout the rest of the year. It’s no longer just about the game, it’s about the party, the food, the betting, the beer.

And this year’s Super Bowl, Super Bowl XLVI, was no exception. Held on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012, the game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots became the most watched show in U.S. history. And because we have entered an increasingly digital era, the social media hype was of extreme proportion as well. There were 12,233 tweets per second during the final three minutes of the game, and 10, 245 tweets per second during the half time show, coming in second and third in Twitter’s overall history, according to International Business Times. (The first is Japan’s airing of the anime film “Castle in the Sky,” holding the record with 25,088 tweets per second.) Last year’s Super Bowl only generated a high of 4,064 tweets per second, breaking the record at that time.

Twitter experienced 12,233 tweets per second during the final three minutes of the game

This year was such a big year for tweeting in part because of the increase in tablet use over the past year. Seventy percent of iPad use occurs in front of the television, making the Super Bowl a “two screen experience.” The total social media traffic involved more than 17 million interactions, according to Trendrr.

So the question becomes, is the Super Bowl a healthy or an unhealthy obsession? Because I don’t feel strongly either way, I see both the positives and negatives to having football be such a significant part of American culture. On one hand, football gives kids role models.  Kids look up to professional athletes and strive to be like them one day, which motivates them to work hard and stay in shape.  It promotes athleticism and the importance of exercise, and inspires us to do our best, because it will pay off in a big way if we do. It shows us that there are ways to succeed outside of strictly academics, and can be a good distraction from life when we need it. Football brings families and friends together, and gives people a way to relate to one another.

But I do think some aspects of the industry have a negative effect on Americans and our society. Athletes get paid an exuberant amount — the average quarterback makes $1,970,982 a year, according to Sports Illustrated­— while teachers and educators, who have a tremendously important responsibility in this country, get paid significantly less. We show loyalty to our favorite teams, but many Americans don’t go to the polls to vote. We pay more attention to ESPN than CNN, and many people know more about their favorite football player than they do about key figures in American history. Our obsession with professional football players is comparable to our obsession with movie stars; we know a creepy amount about their lives, and we go to football stadiums and movie theaters for the same reason: entertainment.

If Americans keep in touch with what’s happening around them on a local, national and international scale, and view football and the Super Bowl as purely entertainment —a good distraction from the stresses of daily life — than I’m all in favor of the sport. And I’m excited to see how advances in technology and new social media innovations will alter how people view and talk about the biggest event of the year.


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