Now that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs have completed their stirring victories in the NFC and AFC championship games, the next step is clear: We must do everything we can to keep the Super Bowl LV from becoming the ultimate “superspreader” event.
In particular, the NFL, NFL Players Association and all of the game’s corporate sponsors and advertisers should launch an immediate public campaign to persuade individuals not to host or attend Super Bowl parties, and instead to watch the game at home with their immediate families.
More than 430,000 Americans have died since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and every official national holiday — Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s — has led to a huge spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Canceling would save most lives
The Super Bowl on Feb. 7 is the next national holiday, albeit an unofficial one. If tradition holds, at least 100 million people in the United States (more than 150 million worldwide) will gather, many in large groups, to watch the game that day. Because food and drink are such an integral part of Super Bowl parties, there is no way those individuals will be wearing masks throughout the game.
Less than two weeks later, on March 24, the International Olympic Committee postponed the Summer Games in Tokyo when the worldwide averages were 31,067 new cases and 1,526 deaths per day.
Now, those rollingaverages are about 585,000 new cases and over 14,000 deaths per day. Given these numbers, and the millions of Super Bowl parties that we know inevitably will be held Feb. 7, we need urgent action to prevent even more illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths.
Ideally, the game would be canceled or postponed, because that would save the most lives. But it is unrealistic to believe that the NFL, having resisted calls last summer to abandon the entire season, would now cancel the final contest to crown a champion. (A counterpoint: In the 1919 Stanley Cup Final, after the Seattle Metropolitans and the Montreal Canadiens had played five times and the series was tied 2-2 with one tie, the deciding game was canceled due to an outbreak of the flu pandemic, and no league champion was crowned.)
One alternative would be to postpone the Super Bowl, as was done with the Olympics, but we do not know when the game could be safely held, and it would be difficult for the players to try to stay in shape and continue practicing for an undetermined amount of time.
Ask fans to watch the game at home
Another option is to let the teams play but do not televise the game live, and instead show it later on “taped delay.” Very few people will gather with friends to listen to the game on radio, or to watch it broadcast after the outcome is known. And that is the point — the NFL gets to crown its champion, but without spawning millions of mini-superspreader events.
But let’s be realistic. Money talks, and there is no way the NFL is going to give up billions of dollars in Super Bowl advertising revenue. Nor will the advertisers want to give up the viewership for their long-planned new Super Bowl commercials.
That leaves a final viable option — a massive effort to persuade sports fans worldwide to watch the Super Bowl only with individuals who are already in their COVID “pods.” That obligation falls squarely on the NFL, every team, the NFL Players Association, broadcasting networks and the scores of corporate sponsors and advertisers. Starting immediately and continuing up until kickoff, they should work in concert to broadcast public service announcements with the stars of the league and other influencers asking everyone to watch the game from home.
If Colin Kaepernick can risk his playing career by taking a knee to protest racial injustice, then certainly those who profit from the Super Bowl can do everything in their power to save countless lives worldwide.
David Nocenti (@DavidNocenti) is the executive director of Union Settlement, the oldest and largest social service provider in East Harlem, where the COVID-19 death rate is more than twice the national average. Courtney Hall, a managing director at Hillcrest Venture Partners and a Visiting Fellow at National Security Institute at George Mason University Law School, played for the San Diego Chargers for eight years and was captain of the team that played in Super Bowl XXIX.
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