strip bannernew-logo25By Gary G. Kohls, MD

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“In thinking back on how effective is TV advertising, I sincerely can’t remember ever buying a single thing that I saw advertised there. In fact I wonder if I might even be making subconscious mental notes to myself to NOT purchase anything that is hyped there.”

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It’s Just a Football Game, People!

A surprising 50% of the US population didn’t watch the 9 hours of TV coverage of Super Bowl Sunday this year. I confess that I was one of them. And it wasn’t the first time that I have intentionally skipped the over-hyped, often tiresome Super Bowl extravaganza, reportedly the day when there is more domestic abuse than any other day of the year. I suppose such an act will be counted as heresy among some of my friend, but so be it.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” makes a certain amount of sense, until you change it to “When in Munich, do as the Nazis do.” That adds another dimension to the earlier saying. Most of us like to think that we would have been anti-fascist resisters in Nazified Munich if we had lived there during the 12 year Thousand Year Reich, although protesting fascism in Hitler’s Germany would have been much more hazardous than protesting the corruption, abuses and hidden consequences of NFL football in America.

One of the reasons for my decision to do my little symbolic and probably ineffectual protest against the excesses of professional sports in general and the Super Bowl in particular was that I have found myself increasingly aware of the billions of impoverished, war-torn, starving and suffering people around the globe, much of it created by our uber-patriotic American exceptionalism that ignores the many billions of dollars that are wasted on every Super Bowl extravaganza.

I have done my share of public protests against any number of injustices, but I also have tried to do private protests as well by with-holding my voting support for America’s most fascist-leaning politicians, by with-holding my financial support for sociopaths and their corporations (especially multinationals) and by not contributing any Nielsen-ratings support for wasteful multibillion dollar spectacles such as the Super Bowl. Everybody should be able to admit that Super Bowl games don’t have any more meaning than any of the other NFL games that occupy the hearts, minds, souls and pocketbooks of so many millions of sports-addicted folks that tend to ignore the serious problems that our dying planet faces.

I admit that, like most Americans, I have watched a bunch of Super Bowl games over the past 49 years and most of them have been incredibly disappointing. In fact, the vast majority of the first 38 Super Bowl games (31, to be exact) were disappointing lop-sided laughers, including the four Vikings Super bowl losses, which were also depressively painful for those of us who were true Vikings fans back in the decade of the ‘70s.

Is the Occasional Thrill of Victory Really Worth the Many Agonies of Defeat?

I suspect that if we pro sports fans are honest with ourselves, very few of the hundreds of hours spent loyally watching professional sports (or the 36,000,000 true diehard fans who also spend uncountable hours in their “Fantasy Football” fantasy world) can justify the time and money spent on those activities, especially when calculating the relative values of the occasional thrill of victory versus the many agonies of defeat.

I would also think that most thoughtful people would have a twinge of guilt when watching pro sports events these days when they consider that, in a certain sense, they are worshiping, cheering for and therefore supporting arrogant, spoiled, over-privileged, socially-inept, multi-millionaire athletes who are playing for arrogant, spoiled, over-privileged, greedy, multi-billionaire team-owners, whose games are broadcast on obscenely profitable television networks that are also owned by amoral, sociopathic multi-billionaires.

The Unaffordably Expensive Super Bowl

The absurdly expensive Super Bowl ticket prices (reportedly $7,000 per ticket for the cheap seats, with over $100,000 for some of the box seats), the $4,500,000 per 30 second commercial, the cost of a popcorn, beer or hot dog ($15, $13, and $8, respectively) and the uncountable hundreds of billions of dollars that are spent (putting the event on, promoting it, attending it, and viewing it) is even more obscene when one considers the problems of poverty, hunger, homelessness, joblessness, poor health care and other forms of epidemic suffering that surround every sports palace in this nation and which are always labeled “unaffordable”.

Considering the astronomical costs that advertisers had to bear, we know that there are no bargains in purchasing any of the products advertised. There are no affordable prices for the items that are advertised on prime time TV, so anything advertised there is a lot more expensive than it otherwise would have been – just because of the added cost of the commercials. In thinking back on how effective is TV advertising, I sincerely can’t remember ever buying a single thing that I saw advertised there. In fact I wonder if I might even be making subconscious mental notes to myself to NOT purchase anything that is hyped there.

The Dopamine-Wasting Mental Anguish of Pro Sports Addiction

Soon after my wife and I finished watching Downton Abbey (perhaps another reason that I did not get involved in the game), I found out that Super Bowl XLIX had been an exciting game, so on Monday I spent some time watching some of the highlights, the 10 “best” (really boring!) commercials and reading some of the vitriolic, hate speech comments from rabid football fans concerning the game-ending interception and the brawl after time ran out. I saved myself 8 precious hours waiting a day to experience the important parts of the game. By not watching the controversial last play and the brawl in real time, I spared myself a lot of useless dopamine-wasting mental anguish.

Death Threats from Super Bowl “Fans”?

I was amazed at what really amounted to death-threats against the two Seattle coaches (who called the pass play instead of the run), the wide receiver (who didn’t “go to the ball” aggressively enough) and even the widely idolized young Seattle quarterback (who didn’t execute the pass well enough). The infamous neo-fascist “hooligan” fans of European “football” might not have anything over American football fans.

The Seattle quarterback probably has some serious theological reflections to do after the conclusion of the game. He was one of the Seattle players who made such a big deal about the role of the divine in their improbable victory over Green Bay two weeks earlier I didn’t see him in his tearful, public, post-game prayer circle this time. The non-biblical, non-gospel “the Lord works in mysterious ways” might be one face-saving out for him. The other, more appropriate out might be that God, if there is one, doesn’t care a hoot about football and its violence.

I haven’t always been skeptical about the false importance of professional sports in our culture. My path towards dialing down the importance of high-profile pro sports started with my gradual disillusionment with my regional major league sports teams, the baseball Twins and the football Vikings. Both teams have had occasional flashes of greatness from time to time; perhaps more than the average pro sports franchise. Mostly though, I and a lot of Twins and Vikings fans have been bamboozled into blindly supporting them year after year, sort of like Charlie Brown has been bamboozled by Lucy, who wants him to continue having faith that things will be better next time.

Ever since the Minnesota Vikings lost their four Super Bowl games, I have had increasingly mixed emotions about exerting (wasting?) much time, mind and money watching the over-hyped marathon spectacle on that most “sacred” Sunday of the year, The fact that so many of the first 40 Super Bowl games were so disappointing to watch helped my disillusionment with the game.

I was also once a Twins fan, albeit a ‘fair-weather” one, following their progress, but only as long as they were winning and had a chance to win a pennant. I never actually saw a real Twins game in person while they were playing outdoors at the old Met Stadium, and I only saw one very boring Twins game at the Metrodome after they had moved indoors.

Games of Inches and a Lot of Luck

My small town once had a “town team” when I was growing up. Local ball players competed with other area baseball teams until the whole reality of amateur baseball started disappearing in the 1950s – thanks to televised sports, I suppose. I still remember listening to Halsey Hall doing his play-by-play for the Twins on WCCO. Hall was famous for his repeated “baseball is a game of inches” comments, meaning that a lot of luck is involved in sports. I’m sure that the football Packers and Seahawks would agree.

My family never had a television set while I was growing up, so I never had a chance to watch professional athletes play baseball or basketball, the two team sports that I participated in. Watching how a game should be played would have made it a lot easier for me to have a chance to become competent in those two sports. As it was, I probably still hold the record for most errors in single game for a little league third baseman in my hometown

I stopped being a diehard Vikings fan shortly after their fourth Super Bowl loss. I must have started asking myself “why should a stupid ball game make me depressed?”

That was also the time when I started recognizing the artificial importance – indeed, the harmfulness – of pro sports in America’s culture.

Sports Fans Mental Health Depends on the Success of Their Sports Teams

During the decade after the Viking’s Super Bowl losses, one of my wise-beyond-her-years daughters made a comment while we were watching the riots and drunken behaviors outside the Metrodome immediately after the Twins had won one of their pennants. She observed “why is it that people’s moods and behaviors depend on the success or failure of their sports teams?” I didn’t have an answer for her, but her observation stuck with me.

I am reminded of some of the delinquent behaviors that occasionally occurred during the Minnesota State basketball tournaments. As I recall, the Austin high school basketball team was infamous for trashing their hotel rooms after failing to win state championship games. At the time, I remember asking myself “why would a team that was good enough to be a top-ranked team trash their hotel rooms?” I didn’t have an answer to that question either.

Ever since my daughter articulated that important question, I have continued to wonder why the mental health and happiness of a lot of professional and non-professional athletes and their fans seem to depend on the failure or success of their sports teams, to the point of stooping to the point of violence, spousal abuse, sexual assault, cheating, lying or maiming. In the case of little league sports for that matter, why do some parents yell obscenities at referees, coaches or their own little children, kids that are still learning the game?

I remember the early days of the Vikings franchise when Bud Grant, Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters would, often as underdogs, defeat warm weather teams that were supposedly better than the Vikings. We diehard Vikings fans would convince ourselves that our “home-grown” players, who were only making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, had the heart and soul of pure “Minnesota-nice” athletes. In retrospect, the media in those simpler times were restrained from reporting ont any of our local players’ criminal exploits or failures of moral behaviors. It was easier to blindly idolize our sports heroes back then.

But the deep truth of my daughter’s observations about the mental health issues and pro sports 30 years ago kept nudging me.

I finally managed to convince myself that it was foolish to care so much about the performance of my team’s pampered multimillionaire athletes (who were sometimes getting away with criminal behaviors when they were off-camera) or the undeservedly lucky multibillionaire owners and their Big Business partners in the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NCAA, and ESPN (to name a few of the organizations that claim innocence when considering who is responsible for their athletes’ traumatic brain injuries, drug use, game-related disabilities and shortened life expectancies).

Stepping back to try to understand what motivates ordinary humans to become obsessed or addicted to fandom, is not an easy thing to do. But it is a problem, especially when the most economically and militarily powerful nation of the world squanders its wealth, good name and influence on activities like useless over-entertainment, senseless celebrity worship and self-destructive sports addictions when there are so many important issues to address.

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