Claim: More women are victims of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday than on any other day of the year.
Origins: Domestic violence has been a problem all too often ignored, covered up, and swept under the rug. Many well-intentioned and successful efforts have been made in the last few decades to bring the issue to public attention; to get the word out to women that they need not suffer silent, helpless, and alone; to advertise that there are organizations victims can turn to for help and support; and to educate others in spotting the signs of abuse. Unfortunately, nearly every cause will encompass a sub-group of advocates who, either through deliberate disingenuousness or earnest gullibility, end up spreading "noble lies" in the furtherance of that cause. The myth of Super Bowl Sunday violence is one such noble lie.
The claim that Super Bowl Sunday is "the biggest day of the year for violence against women" is a case study of how easily an idea congruous with what people want to believe can be implanted in the public consciousness and anointed as "fact" even when there is little or no supporting evidence behind it. Christina Hoff Sommers charted a timeline of how the apocryphal statistic about domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday was widely (if erroneously) publicized over the course of a few days leading up to the Super Bowl in January 1993:
A news conference was called in Pasadena, California, the site of the forthcoming Super Bowl game, by a coalition of women's groups. At the news conference reporters were informed that significant anecdotal evidence suggested that Super Bowl Sunday is "the biggest day of the year for violence against women." Prior to the conference, there had been reports of increases as high as
At about this time a very large media mailing was sent by Dobisky Associates, warning at-risk women, "Don't remain at home with him during the game." The idea that sports fans are prone to attack wives or girlfriends on that climactic day persuaded many men as well: Robert Lipsyte of the
Friday, January 29
Lenore Walker, a Denver psychologist and author of The Battered Woman, appeared on "Good Morning America" claiming to have compiled a ten-year record showing a sharp increase in violent incidents against women on Super Bowl Sundays. Here, again, a representative from FAIR, Laura Flanders, was present to lend credibility to the cause.
Saturday, January 30
A story in the Boston Globe written by Linda Gorov reported that women's shelters and hotlines are "flooded with more calls from victims [on Super Bowl Sunday] than on any other day of the year." Gorov cited "one study of women's shelters out West" that "showed a
Ken Ringle, a reporter for the Washington Post, was one of the few journalists to bother to check the sources behind the stories. When he contacted Janet Katz, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion University, and one of the authors of the study cited during the
One of the most notable findings, she said, was that an increase of emergency room admissions "was not associated with the occurrence of football games in general, nor with watching a team lose." When they looked at win days alone, however, they found that the number of women admitted for gunshot wounds, stabbings, assaults, falls, lacerations and wounds from being hit by objects was slightly higher than average. But certainly not
"These are interesting but very tentative findings, suggesting what violence there is from males after football may spring not from a feeling of defensive insecurity, which you'd associate with a loss, but from the sense of empowerment following a win. We found that significant. But it certainly doesn't support what those women are saying in Pasadena," Katz said.
Yet Ewing is quoted in the release from Dobisky Associates declaring "Super Bowl Sunday is one day in the year when hot lines, shelters and other agencies that work with battered women get the most reports and complaints of domestic violence."
"I never said that," Ewing said. "I don't know that to be true."
Told of Ewing's response, Frank Dobisky acknowledged that the quote should have read "one of the days of the year." That could mean one of many days in the year.
Did any evidence back up the assertion that Super Bowl Sunday was the leading day for domestic violence? When the Washington Post's Ringle attempted to follow the chain by contacting Linda Mitchell of FAIR, Mitchell said her source had been Lenore Walker, the Denver psychologist who'd appeared on "Good Morning America" the day after the news conference.
The upshot? It turned out that Super Bowl Sunday in 1993 (as in other years) was not a significantly different day for those who monitor domestic abuse hotlines and staff battered women's shelters:
An increase in domestic violence predicted for Super Bowl Sunday did not happen in Columbus, authorities said, and others nationwide said women's rights activists were spreading the wrong message.
Despite some pregame hype about the "day of dread" for some women, Columbus-area domestic violence counselors said that [Super Bowl] Sunday, although certainly violent for some women, was relatively routine.
The weeks and months after the 1993 Super Bowl saw a fair amount of backpedalling by those who had propagated the Super Bowl Sunday violence myth, but as usual the retractions and corrections received far less attention than the sensational-but-false stories everyone wanted to believe, and the bogus Super Bowl statistic remains a widely-cited and believed piece of misinformation. As Sommers concluded, "How a belief in that misandrist canard can make the world a better place for women is not explained."
Variations: A similar item, circulated during the 2014 World Cup football (i.e., soccer) tournament and based on a study by researchers at Lancaster University, held that "Every time England loses the World Cup, domestic violence against women raises 38%."
Last updated: 7 February 2016
Cadwallader, Bruce. "Super Bowl Battering Didn't Happen." The Columbus Dispatch. 2 February 1993 (p. C1). Cobb, Jean. "A Super Bowl — Battered Women Link?" American Journalism Review. May 1993 (p. 33-38). Gantz, W. et al. "Televised NFL Games, the Family, and Domestic Violence." Published in: Raney, Arthur A. Handbook of Sports and Media. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006. ISBN 0-805-85189-5 (pp. 365-381). Gorov, Lynda. "Activists: Abused Women at Risk on Super Sunday." The Boston Globe. 29 January 1993 (Metro; p. 13). Hohler, Bob. "Super Bowl Gaffe." The Boston Globe. 2 February 1993 (p. 1). Oths, K.S. "Give Me Shelter: Temporal Patterns of Women Fleeing Domestic Abuse." Human Organization. 2007: 66(3), pp. 249-260. Ringle, Ken. "Debunking the 'Day of Dread' for Women." The Washington Post. 31 January 1993 (p. A1). Sommers, Christina Hoff. Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994. ISBN 0-684-80156-6 (pp. 188-192). Tuohy, Lynne. "No Increases in Domestic Violence Reported from Super Bowl." The Hartford Courant . 2 February 1993 (p. A3). The Wall Street Journal. "Football's Day of Dread." 5 February 1993 (p. A10).