The excitement of Super Bowl LII isn't worth the cost

Media Contact: President Jason Sole, 651-983-0982

While many Vikings fans are still recovering from the loss to the Eagles, this weekend Minneapolis is host to the biggest sporting event of the year. But the focus on football doesn’t mean we have amnesia. It was the high-profile killings of Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, and too many others, here in Minnesota and across the country, that helped spark Colin Kaepernick’s protest highlighting police brutality against people of color. A recent study ranking states on their degree of racial inequality found Minnesota to be the second-worst place for black Americans to live. 

The excitement of Super Bowl LII can't hide these problems, and holding the big game here isn't worth the cost - in dollars or human suffering. 

In his book How Racism Takes Place, George Lipsitz argues that sports teams benefit from tax breaks and subsidies that are given at the expense of other community priorities. For example, when the Rams won the 2000 Super Bowl, children in St. Louis public schools (a majority of whom were poor, and black) “did not score touchdowns, make tackles, kick field goals, or intercept passes for the team. But revenue diverted from the St. Louis school system through tax abatements and other subsidies to the Rams made a crucial difference in giving the football team the resources to win the Super Bowl.” How much funding has been diverted from our metro school systems to support sports teams? This while our schools grapple with large graduation gaps, and too often continue to ensure success for white students while funneling students of color to detention and prison.

Our funding for sports entertainment includes costs to build the new U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in 2016, which helped the city land Super Bowl LII. Public spending from the state ($348 million) and the city ($150 million) was nearly $500 million, almost half the total cost to build the stadium. That money displaced other social spending. Meanwhile, economists agree that claims about the local income generated by the Super Bowl are often inflated. A realistic number, according to sports economist Victor Matheson, is between $30 and $130 million; from that perspective, the investments (including stadium funding) that brought us Super Bowl LII are a net loss to the region. We’re grateful for the NFL’s Super Bowl Legacy Fund contributing $5.5 million to kids but it doesn’t compare to what has been extracted from taxpayers. How many children could we have saved with the money instead spent to host this extravagant experience?

Even the immediate impact of Super Bowl preparation has fallen heavily on vulnerable populations. Community members are hearing accounts of a girl frostbitten due to being forced out of a motel for Super Bowl fans. The homeless are banned from using the light rail in order to cater to privileged ticket holders. What kind of treatment do we expect them to receive if they dare step foot on the train? Humanity is lost when entertainment takes priority.

With military tanks occupying our city and an overwhelming law enforcement presence downtown, who are they targeting as potential threats to public safety? Odds are it’ll be the poor black guy in a hoodie getting hassled rather than the rich white man who has had a few too many drinks. Statistics tell us that racial profiling will occur this weekend - as it does every weekend. At last week’s Pro Bowl, every one of the 56 black NFL players interviewed by the AP said they had experienced profiling or knew of someone who had. No surprises there. No doubt, these are rich players; what about the poor black people? As Malik Jackson of the Jaguars said, “You can probably ask any black man out here and the answer is yes. It's not like this is just starting today or a new thing. It's gone on for a long time.”

The NFL itself actively works against justice and shirks its responsibility. Once Colin Kaepernick began protesting, the league made sure he would pay for his free speech by sacrificing his career. The concussion crisis was an open secret for years, but now with public acknowledgement of the brain damage and mental health disorders that result from playing the game, the NFL refuses to take more than watered-down half measures to protect the health and safety of athletes.

The Super Bowl also shines a spotlight on other social challenges we face. Minnesota has a significant and persistent trafficking crisis. Concerns about victimization may peak during an event such as the Super Bowl, but as Ramsey County Attorney John Choi (who co-chairs the Super Bowl Anti-Trafficking Committee) stated last week, “This problem is in our community 365 days a year, every hour, every minute of every day, and so when the Super Bowl leaves, it is still going to be a problem.” The solution isn’t to have our jails fill up with sex workers. But can we rely on the military tanks to swoop in and rescue young girls and women from subjugation? Probably not. Combating trafficking requires supporting the victims, targeting the traffickers, and deterring the buyers; it is a complex social problem that we must continue to address.

While the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots provide joy to their fans, let’s not forget that pain and suffering for poor people is part of the deal. We can’t let the game distract us from being grounded and present to address and undo our problems.

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