I thought I was reading The Onion. Seriously. I was e-mailed an article written by CBS Sports columnist Gregg Doyel about Occupy activists targeting the Super Bowl because of the state’s imminent “right to work” legislation, and I thought I was reading The Onion. I thought it was a caricature of the uncurious, apolitical, sports jock-columnist who belches, “Politics are for nerds! Durrrrrrr….” My confusion came from reading lines like, “I’m not here to tell you what ‘right to work’ legislation would mean to Indiana for two reasons: One, I don’t know. Two, I don’t care.”
When I realized that this was an actual column, and not pretend, I went back and tried to take the arguments seriously. Doyel is “full of resentment that the Occupy movement would use our passion for the Super Bowl against us, infiltrating something we love so we have to focus on something they hate”—namely the “right to work” legislation Doyel doesn’t bother to understand.
Doyel wrote primly of the protest, “It’s inappropriate.” I have to wonder if it was Doyel’s pay check being threatened, whether he would think it appropriate to resist. But for all he knows, “right to work” is a breakfast cereal, so we’re left to wonder.
He then writes, “Protesting the Super Bowl is unfair to the teams involved and the fans of the game.” This ignores two things. The first is that the players, as represented by the NFLPA, have come out loudly and proudly against “right to work.” Nowhere does Doyel mention this crucial fact. Its absence is negligent.
Doyel also claims that the spectre of politics will repulse fans “liberal and conservative alike.” Has Doyel ever watched the Super Bowl? Politics swamp the game, whether it’s General David Petraeus flipping the coin, sexist commercials, military flyovers, another nationally televised anti-choice ad or interviews with whomever is in the White House. Still, people somehow have the ability to separate this from the game itself. I watched the game last year with a group of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and if they could separate the politics from the fun of the game, then I think others could do it as well. Also, given the way working people have seen their wages and benefits gutted, who’s to say they wouldn’t be thrilled to know that the game is being used as a platform for something other than godaddy.com?
Then Doyel references my column in The Nation, where I describe the big day as “Woodstock for the 1 percent.” He agrees that the game is unaffordable but says that fact is also “shortsighted nonsense. The Super Bowl generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the host city and surrounding areas, an economic boost that cannot be ignored simply because you can’t go.” But in fact, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal, the Super Bowl will be an overall money-loser.
Doyel doesn’t cite anything in regard to this economic impact he describes. He doesn’t cite anything because the numbers don’t exist. Doyel also doesn’t account for the $650 million of public money that went into building Lucas Oil Stadium (having a new or refurbished megadome is now a prerequisite for hosting the game). He doesn’t account for extra money spent on the kind of post-9/11 security the game demands. He just says it and we’re supposed to accept it.
Doyel ends with a blunt threat, writing, “I’m irritated too. Irritated at the self-centered protesters who would take their unhappiness with the government and aim it at the Super Bowl. Be careful where you aim that thing, protesters. You’ll alienate people who otherwise might be inclined to think you’re right. Lots of people—lots of us—are on the fence on the Occupy movement. Don’t push us too hard. We might hop off in a direction you won’t like.”
There were sports columnists in the 1960s who said people like Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Billie Jean King, Tommie Smith and John Carlos should just shut up and play, They said sports and politics should never mix. History has not been kind to these sportswriters. I would encourage Gregg Doyel not to join them. I’d advise him to get in touch with the NFLPA, get in touch with the AFL-CIO, and, yes, get in touch with the Occupy protesters of Indiana to actually learn why they feel the way they feel. I’d encourage him to learn the facts and decide for himself. I’d also ask him to not be so proud to know nothing.