The Super Bowl Is a Grift of Epic Proportions

The Super Bowl is like prom for the 1 percent. When the big game comes to town, it’s accompanied by private jets, parties, and nonstop bottle service. That should be enough, but it never is. The bacchanalia also comes festooned with public funds for the NFL, an overwhelming police presence, and the removal of the poor. It’s a world of fun on our TVs, but it’s a wrecking ball for local communities.

This year the game is in Miami, and the scams are starting to seep into public consciousness. As the Miami Herald is reporting, the NFL booked 1 million dollars’ worth of rooms at the J.W. Marriott Marquis hotel and Aventura’s Turnberry resort for the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers players and coaches—and sent the city the bill.

Even though the NFL is a gargantuan corporate operation and both teams are owned by billionaires, Miami (where 27 percent of children live below the poverty line) is on the hook for the hotel accommodations. This is just part of a $4 million welfare package with which the city has gifted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who makes 10 times that amount in yearly salary. That $4 million does not include the costs of the police and security presence required to host the game. Rodney Barreto, the chairman of Miami’s Host Committee, said to the Herald, “These are basically things we have to do to get them to come. If we’re not doing it, another city is.”

The police presence will be “an extraordinary deployment of law enforcement assets, even by recent standards, in keeping with heightened global tensions and fears of home-grown violence.” According to Reuters, Super Bowl LIV “is a so-called SEAR 1 event, affording it the highest level of federal resources, including explosive detection canine teams, cyber risk assessments and air security. Coordinated by the U.S. Secret Service, the security force includes operations by the U.S. Coast Guard, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security.”

In addition, Miami police will lead “lead a massive ground operation with thousands of officers… on foot, horseback, in boats, and in the air.”

While the police roam the city and public dollars flow into the NFL’s coffers, the league is engaging in Kabuki theater charity: its spoonful of sugar to help the poison go down, showy presentations so it won’t look like a parasite. The league donated $100,000 to a homeless shelter that will house those displaced from Bayfront Park by the Super Bowl. This sounds nice, but the donation will actually help facilitate their removal from the streets so they’re not an eyesore, or worse, a reminder of the human costs of economic inequality. In addition, Dak Prescott, quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, is being praised for donating 100,000 bowls of Campbell’s Chunky Soup (Prescott’s sponsor) to local homeless shelters. This is the synthesis of commercialism and philanthropy that the NFL adores.

Yet there won’t only be police and soup. There will also be protest. Residents of the historic Miami Gardens neighborhood along with the Miami-Dade NAACP will be protesting on game day at the site of the Super Bowl, HardRock Stadium, in a fight to stop Formula 1 racing on public streets. The racing circuit has been invited to Miami Gardens by HardRock Stadium and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. F1 racing has been rejected by numerous communities because of environmental impact and traffic concerns. Ross doesn’t have such concerns about the residents in Miami Gardens, so they will be using the platform of the Super Bowl to fight back.

They won’t be alone. While private planes will be incoming in great numbers, airport workers in Miami will be protesting low wages and expensive health insurance costs with a Super Bowl week hunger strike. They are demonstrating against their employer, the airline catering subcontractor Sky Chefs. Sky Chefs works with, among other entities, American Airlines. Their Union, Unite Here, is currently in negotiations with Sky Chefs for a living wage. One worker, Ibis Boggiano, said to the Herald, “We are sacrificing our health so that they will hear us.”

The demonstration is called “Fast for Our Families.” On Monday, the workers were joined at a press conference by NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, who said, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that all labor has dignity. Let’s remember, as hundreds of thousands of people descend onto Miami this week, that behind every Super Bowl party and celebration, there are men and women doing the work behind the scenes to be able to feed their families. The NFLPA is proud to stand in solidarity with airline catering this week, and shame on American Airlines for not taking action to make sure they are provided a living wage.”

The Super Bowl more than ever is a microcosm of this country. The super-wealthy will be oozing from one heavily guarded party to the next, while the hungry hope to be seen amid the flashing lights and heard above the ceaseless din.

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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