Recently, About's Urban Legend Guide David Emery, who does an excellent job of tracking the latest myths and hoaxes perpetrated on the Internet and beyond, promoted an article on Super Bowl Sunday Folklore in which he referred to the fact that more women are abused on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day as one of those "larger-than-life 'urban beliefs' in the U.S."
Emery's article pointed to Cecil "The Straight Dope" Adams' column that supposedly "debunked" the claim that domestic violence increases on Super Bowl Sunday, a story that has been making the rounds since the Super Bowl of 1993.
How did all of this controversy begin and what is the truth of the matter? Does domestic violence increase during America's unofficial national football holiday, or not?
The story began in 1993 when Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) convinced the NBC Television network to run a public service announcement prior to the start of the Super Bowl broadcast. The announcement warned: "Domestic violence is a crime."
Debunking the DebunkersShortly after the game ended a bevy of reporters, from Ken Ringle of the Washington Post to Rush Limbaugh, attempted to "debunk" FAIR's effort to call attention to a crisis that, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, claims thousands of women's lives per year.
The debunkers charged that FAIR had claimed that "national studies" supported their assertions, that FAIR made "predictions" of Super Bowl Sunday violence using false statistics, and that FAIR had "acknowledged" that its evidence was largely "anecdotal."
But FAIR denied any accusations that it distorted the facts and figures. In an article by Laura Flanders headlined "Super Bowl Success Sparks Good Ol' Boys' Backlash," FAIR said when negotiating with NBC to run the PSA they referred to no national studies or statistics on the subject and made no predictions. In fact, FAIR told NBC that studies on domestic violence are gravely underfunded and understudied.
" 'Anecdotal' was the word used in countless interviews by FAIR; stories from women on the front lines were something that made the campaign stronger, not something anyone was forced to 'acknowledge,' " wrote Flanders.
What is the bottom line on this issue? Flanders' article spelled it out: "Workers at women's shelters, and some journalists, have long reported that Super Bowl Sunday is one of the year's worst days for violence against women in the home. FAIR hoped that the broadcast of an anti-violence PSA on Super Sunday, in front of the biggest TV audience of the year, would sound a wake-up call for the media, and it did."
That PSA saved lives, Flanders said.