Super Bull Sunday

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on the claim that more women are victims of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday than on any other day of the year.

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Super Bull Sunday
Super Bowl Sunday, Domestic Violence & Your Health
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Super Bull Sunday

Claim: more women are victims of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday than on any other day of the year.

Status: False.

Origins: The claim that Super Bowl Sunday is "the biggest day of the year for violence against women" demonstrates how easily an idea congruous with what people want to believe can be implanted in the public consciousness and anointed as "fact" even when it has been fabricated out of whole cloth.

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.

Christina Hoff Sommers charted a timeline of how the apocryphal statistic about domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday was foisted upon the public over the course of a few days leading up to the Super Bowl in January 1993:

Thursday, January 28

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 40 percent in calls for help from victims that day. At the conference, Sheila Kuehl of the California Women's Law Center cited a study done at Virginia's Old Dominion University three years before, saying that it found police reports of beatings and hospital admissions in northern Virginia rose 40 percent after games won by the Redskins during the 1988-89 season. The presence of Linda Mitchell at the conference, a representative of a media "watchdog" group called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), lent credibility to the cause.

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 New York Times would soon be referring to the "Abuse Bowl."

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 40 percent climb in calls, a pattern advocates said is repeated nationwide, including in Massachusetts."

Writers and pundits were quick to offers reasons why this "fact" was so obviously true. After all, everyone knows that men are mostly loutish brutes, and football is the epitome of mindless, aggressive, violent, testosterone-driven macho posturing. Certainly during the culmination of the football season, the final, spectacular, massively-hyped "super" game, more men than ever are going to express their excitement or disappointment by smacking their wives and girlfriends around. So much attention did the "Super Bowl abuse" stories garner that NBC aired a public service announcement before the game to remind men that domestic violence is a crime.

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 January 28 news conference, he found:

Janet Katz, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion and one of the authors of that study, said "that's not what we found at all. "

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 40 percent.

"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.

Likewise, Ringle checked the claim made by Dobisky Associates (the organization that had mailed warnings to women advising them not to stay at home with their husbands on Super Bowl Sunday) that "Super Bowl Sunday is the 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." Dobisky's source for this quote was Charles Patrick Ewing, a professor at the University at Buffalo, but Professor Ewing told Ringle he'd never said it:

"I don't think anybody has any systematic data on any of this," said Charles Patrick Ewing, a forensic psychologist and author of "Battered Women Who Kill."

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.

In addition, Ringle learned that Linda Gorov, the Boston Globe reporter who'd written 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" hadn't even seen the study she'd cited in support of that statement but had merely been told about it by Linda Mitchell, the FAIR representative who was present at the January 28 news conference that had kicked off the whole issue.

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. Ms. Walker's office referred Ringle to Michael Lindsey, another Denver psychologist who was also an authority on battered women. Mr. Lindsey told Ringle that "I haven't been any more successful than you in tracking down any of this" and asked, "You think maybe we have one of these myth things here?"

The upshot? It turned out that Super Bowl Sunday was not a significantly different day for those who monitor domestic abuse hotlines and staff battered women's shelters:

Those who work with the victims of domestic violence in Connecticut reported no increase in cases Monday, after a barrage of publicity on the potential link between Super Bowl gatherings and family violence.

An increase in domestic violence predicted for Super Bowl Sunday did not happen in Columbus, authorities said yesterday, 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 Sunday, although certainly violent for some women, was relatively routine.

The ensuing weeks and months 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."

Additional sources:

Super Bowl Sunday, Domestic Violence & Your Health

It’s that time again… When Super Bowl Sunday dominates the U.S. headlines, and people plan their Sunday evenings around a get-together, party, or the game. It’s also a good time to look at two stories related to Super Bowl Sunday.

The first is the largely debunked myth that domestic violence calls spike around Super Bowl Sunday and other drinking holidays of the year (like New Year’s). Snopes originally tracked down the myth and showed it to be nothing more than another urban legend. Since their last update on the myth in 2005, however (and our article 4 years ago), there’s been further research examining the myth.

A 2007 study by Oths & Robertson examined 2,387 crisis call records covering a previous 3-year period. They supplemented the call records with both formal and informal interviews with abused women and staff. What did they find?

The widely held belief that more women seek shelter during “drinking holidays” such as New Year’s and the Super Bowl was unsubstantiated, while the contention that women with school-aged children time their leaving to coincide with breaks in the academic schedule was supported.

What about other mental health issues, like suicide? Do they spike on Super Bowl Sundays? Psychologist Thomas Joiner had a hypothesis about serious suicidal behavior — that the need to belong is so powerful that, when satisfied, it can prevent suicide. Joiner and fellow researchers (2006) investigated whether perceived membership in a valued group — like a sports team — meets that “need to belong” and can negate suicidal tendencies. They found that, indeed, fewer suicides occurred on Super Bowl Sundays than during non-Super Bowl Sundays. So no spike there either.

What about other behaviors surrounding Super Bowl Sunday, like driving fatalities? On Super Bowl Sundays, compared to non-Super Bowl Sundays, Redelmeier & Stewart (2003) found a 41% relative increase in the average number of fatalities after the telecast on Super Bowl Sunday. So if there’s one piece of actionable advice you can take from the research, it’s to be very careful driving home after a Super Bowl Sunday get-together or party.

But in my opening, I said “largely debunked” myth. That’s because there is one set of data that has found a connection between football and domestic violence, and in turn, Super Bowl Sunday. However, that data was not published in a peer-reviewed journal — the usual standard for research — so it should be taken with a grain of salt. The study appeared in the Handbook of Sports and Media (Gantz et al., 2006) and examined domestic violence police dispatches by day in 15 NFL cities, which resulted in 26,192 days worth of data (and 1,366,518 domestic violence calls). The researchers found a tiny positive effect for a rise in domestic violence dispatches on or after Super Bowl Sunday. By comparison, they found a much bigger effect for a rise in domestic violence calls around major holidays like Christmas though — nearly fives times as many. So while they did find a small but significant relationship there, it must be tempered by the fact that this was never peer-reviewed research and that most major holidays throughout the year have a much bigger domestic violence impact.

Last, two years ago we reported that watching the Super Bowl may be hazardous to your health. In that article, we noted research published in the New England Journal of Medicine that examined 4,279 heart cases that occurred during the World Cup games. The researchers found that men’s risk of having a heart attack was 3x higher while watching their team play, while women’s risk was 2x higher. Something to keep in mind while watching the game this year — be aware of heart attack symptoms and take them seriously if your heart suddenly doesn’t feel right.

Enjoy the game! We will.


Gantz, W., Bradley, S.D. & Wang, Z. (2006). Televised NFL Games, the Family, and Domestic Violence. In: Handbook of sports and media. Raney, Arthur A. (Ed.); Bryant, Jennings (Ed.); Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, pp. 365-381.

Joiner, T.E., Jr., Hollar, D. & Van Orden, K. (2006). On Buckeyes, Gators, Super Bowl Sunday, and the Miracle on Ice: ‘Pulling together’ is associated with lower suicide rates. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 25(2), 179-195.

Oths, K.S. & Robertson, T. (2007). Give me shelter: Temporal patterns of women fleeing domestic abuse. Human Organization, 66(3), 249-260.

Redelmeier, DA & Stewart, CL. (2003). Driving fatalities on Super Bowl Sunday. The New England Journal of Medicine, 348(4), 368-369.

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