The Super Bowl is undoubtedly the one event each year that unites the largest group of Americans in a common endeavor — watching the spectacle of the two best teams in the NFL battle each other for supremacy, at least for that year.
For one breathtaking afternoon, Republicans, Democrats and independents; Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims; people of various ethnic and national derivations; all join in watching this national event.
Perhaps even Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich will be watching! The audience for the Super Bowl is about 100 million people, far outstripping any other media event. This, in addition to the 100,000 or so fans who will have the rare privilege to be in the stadium. Ticket prices will average around $1,000. But some fans will pay as much as $4,000 for a seat.
The economic impacts of the Super Bowl are immense. Some estimates claim the event could bring as much as $400 million to a host city. A more modest estimate by Holy Cross University economists put the impact on the host city closer to $ 100 million, still a decent chunk of change.
Several cities have spent billions of dollars building or refurbishing stadiums to be able to host a Super Bowl. By virtue of its newly constructed Ford Field, the NFL awarded the 2006 event to Detroit.
But the biggest winner of the Super Bowl is the media — the networks and the minions who work in the advertising and promotion fields, including reporters, bloggers, sports announcers, camera operators and the like.
For advertising in the 2011 game, Fox charged about $3 million for each 30-second spot, pulling in an estimated $200 million. Automobile and beer ads heavily populated the advertising. But the advertisers were quite diverse — all hoping to piggyback increased sales on the spectacle of the Super Bowl.
Pizza parlors — Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s receive twice as many orders on Super Bowl Sunday as on any other day of the year. Papa John’s sold more than 1 million pizzas on Super Bowl Sunday 2011.
Further, as a Forbes article on “The Super Bowl Economy” says, party planners and parking lot attendants are among the prime beneficiaries of Super Bowl Sunday. “While there are probably thousands of other businesses and individuals that will reap the rewards of the Super Bowl economy (most notably the hoteliers and restaurateurs), there are few less obvious places where the money will be flowing.
“Bottom line, whether it’s coming from fans or corporations, there are some big bucks being spent at this year’s Super Bowl, and everyone from pizza parlors to television networks to nightclubs are reaping the financial benefits.”
So what does this have to do with African-American history? Well, for one thing, three out of four players in the NFL are African-American. Thus, this magnificent empire of wealth and industry rests on a foundation of African-American labor. For fans, the Super Bowl is fun, sport; for the players it’s work — hard, dangerous work. And it is a hard road to the Super Bowl.
Until the 1970s, American universities were racially segregated and professional sports were, too. Still, even in the pre-NFL era, African-Americans played professional football. Charles Hollis played halfback for Shelby Athletic Club in 1902-06. Paul Robeson, an All-American at Rutgers, played end for Akron in 1921 and Milwaukee in 1922. Thirteen players are listed on professional rosters between 1920 and 1933. But for African-Americans, certain positions like coach, manager and quarterback were unattainable.
Yet when finally a black quarterback, Doug Williams, led the Washington Redskins against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, he left an indelible impression on the history of the big game. Naturally, the Broncos, led by quarterback John Elway, were favored. But the Redskins won handily.
Williams completed 18 of 29 passes for a Super Bowl record of 340 yards and four touchdowns. He became the first player in Super Bowl history to pass for four touchdowns in a single quarter. The Redskins set the following records: total offensive yards, 602; total offensive rushing yards, 280; most touchdowns scored in a Super Bowl, six; total offensive yards in a quarter, 256; most points in a quarter and in a half, 35; and most touchdowns in a quarter, five.
Williams was named the MVP of Super Bowl XXII and helped, in no small measure, to dispel the dogma that black players could not play at quarterback. Before that, most black college quarterbacks were converted into pass receivers or, like Warren Moon, went to the Canadian Football League.
Another seminal chapter in the history of the Super Bowl was written when two African-American head coaches — Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith — met to contest the 2006 Super Bowl. Dungy’s Indianapolis Colts beat Smith’s Chicago Bears.
This political season has witnessed much disparaging of African-Americans. Santorum, for example, has said he does not want to take people’s money and give it to blacks to improve their situation. But an examination of the economics of the Super Bowl suggests it is not as simple as Santorum makes out.
Black players have contributed mightily to the creation of this multibillion-dollar industry. Would it be that unfair if, for example, more of the gains from the NFL went to fund academic scholarships or recreational programs for underfunded low-income schools?
— Desmond Jolly, a longtime Davis resident, is an agricultural economist emeritus at UC Davis.