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Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin writes about the politics of sports for the Nation Magazine, and is author of Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love

February 5th, 2012 1:39 PM

Why Protests Should Be a Part of Super Bowl Sunday

Crossposted from The Nation

This Sunday, the greatest multitude in the history of the United States will be tuning into the same television show at the same time. The 2012 Super Bowl, to be played between two major media markets, the New England Patriots and New York Giants, kicks off at 6:30 pm. This year’s game can also be called, “The East Coast Bias Bowl,” the “ESPN Nocturnal Emission Bowl” or the “Pox on Both Houses Bowl.”

Popularity plus polarization will mean epic ratings. It also means a pox of sponsors branding Indianapolis’s Lucas Oil Field within an inch of its life. But while the high rollers will party down and Fortune 500 companies will have an unparalleled audience, the city of Indianapolis will reel under the weight of our national party.

Bloomberg News, which no one will mistake for The Nation, headlined an article, “Super Bowl Lands on Taxpayers’ Backs as Indianapolis Stadium Deal Sours.” Bloomberg describes a state of affairs in Indy where “Super Bowl fans are riding zip lines through downtown” while “taxpayers are digging deeper in their pockets to pay for the stadium where the game will be played.”

They report that local officials have had to hike sales and hospitality taxes to pay off $43 million in “unexpected financing costs.” The Bloomberg article joins a withering piece in the Indianapolis Business Journal about how the local economic impact will be less bonanza than meteor. No amount of extra shifts for waiters and parking lot attendants can match the tax burden they will endure in order to play host. But at least city planners can have that zipline and the “800,000-square-foot exposition” called “The NFL Experience”

This Woodstock for the 1 percent in the state capital has, as we’ve been covering, been coupled with the passage of the anti-union, anti-wage, “right to work” laws by the Republican-dominated Indiana statehouse. It seemed earlier this week that the Occupy movement along with the AFL-CIO and joined by a highly supportive NFL Players Association could translate into a serious show of force right at the gate of the stadium. There have been marches this week through “The NFL Experience” of more than 1,000 people, and today NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith spoke and marched in a 400-person UNITE rally at the city’s main Hyatt Hotel.

This has been welcome, with one person describing it to me as “electrifying,” but the state’s union leaders are also explicitly pulling back from any kind of public showing in front of the stadium or on the Super Bowl grounds this Sunday. Nancy Guyott, president of the Indiana AFL-CIO, said today, “The Indiana State AFL-CIO does not plan nor condone any attempts to disrupt the Super Bowl. While we understand the anger and frustration of working Hoosiers’ over the disgraceful passage of the so-called, ‘right to work’ bill, the appropriate outlet will be at the ballot box, not the Super Bowl.” She made clear that no state locals would be participating in any rallies in any kind of official capacity.

De Smith in his Thursday press conference said that the NFLPA was committed to challenging other states where “right to work” laws have been proposed, but did not speak to any action this Sunday. In addition to a sigh of relief from the local media, Laura Crewson blogging for Daily Kos Labor endorsed a plan of action. “With the NFL Players Association having vocally opposed that law, it’s an opportunity to draw attention to labor issues in the state,” she wrote. “At the same time, you don’t want to be the assholes who actually disrupted the Super Bowl, so there’s a line to walk here.”

There are two problems with this approach. The first is this strawman idea that the choices Sunday are either to “be disruptive” or do nothing. A loud and proud picket on the Super Bowl grounds might not win adherents among those who can afford tickets, but it would be a way to raise awareness on a national scale. The same is true if players wore a patch on their shoulder, helmet or even chinstrap. Given the anti-labor and "right-to-work" initiatives being considered in Minnesota, Arizona and even Michigan, there cannot be enough visibility. Also, given the politics that swamp the Super Bowl, from the corporate branding to the military commercialism to the anti-abortion ads, why should labor be at all sheepish about having a voice on game day?

But no one should assume that the union leadership’s words will be law on Sunday. If the Occupy movement has taught people anything it’s that fortune favors the bold. Already, there is a demonstration called for noon at the Indianapolis state house, but that could be just the appetizer. The Wall Street Journal quoted Tim Janko, a steelworker from northwest Indiana, and Perry Stabler, a retired steelworker, who both said they would be seen and heard on game day. Janko said, “I’m going to picket the Super Bowl because this is wrong,” he said. “I’m going to have a Teamster drive me into town.” Stabler also commented, “Union workers built that stadium, they should have the right to demonstrate in front of it..”

The people of Indiana are angry. I’m not sure telling them that anger has its time and its place is going to do the trick.

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