In the United States the Super (Stupor) Bowl came and went last Sunday, leaving me in a stupor as always, over the excessive commercialism and heavy drinking that characterizes America’s biggest (!) holiday. The Carolina Panthers were upset by the Denver Broncos in the only game on earth where an off-hand (or maybe not so off-hand) post-game comment can net a business 13.9 million dollars in just hours. It is also the only game on earth where workers are paid 13 dollars an hour to…serve 13 dollar Bud Light beers—one step above (or below, depending on your level of taste and health-consciousness) water—to people who have paid up to 10,000 dollars a ticket.
It may look like an Eastern European bread line but no, it is just people trying to get home after spending their day trying to eek out a living. Image Courtesy of: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_grind/2016/02/i_sold_beer_and_hot_dogs_at_the_super_bowl_and_got_paid_a_pittance.html.
And it is also the only game in the world that can—despite its disgusting embodiment of extreme capitalism in its most repulsive form—distract people from that same gut-wrenching exploitation in the name of…race?! Apparently, it can. The halftime show this year, a musical performance that half of the spectators don’t remember for too much alcohol consumption and half remember all too well for living up to its sideshow nature (Janet Jackson’s nipple anyone?), stole the show again but not for such titillating (!) reasons as Ms. Jackson’s did in 2004.
This year the star was Ms. Beyonce Knowles, the former Destiny’s Child star and now Mrs. Jay Z. Apparently her half-time performance, which featured a Black Panthers’ salute, rubbed some people the wrong way. Indeed, it even divided the black community. Dianca London notes that “Beyonce’s capitalism [is] masquerading as radical change”, and she further reminds readers that
“Beyoncé’s music is created to generate profit much like Super Bowl 50 and its countless ads so many of us consumed on Sunday. Sure, pop music can be influential on an individual and communal level, but it is dangerous when we fail to consider the ways in which songs such as “Formation” or last year’s “Flawless” are essentially an advertisement for Beyoncé’s brand — making her forever evolving activism (and the public’s eager consumption of it) a self-sustaining cache cow with limitless potential…it is alarming how we as a community unabashedly endorse without question or pause the soft politics of pop icons. It’s problematic to consume without caution, even if we see a reflection of ourselves, our mothers or sisters in their narratives. As much as we might feel empowered by the grace of their choreography and the back beats of their latest anthems, we as black Americans should allow ourselves the space to question the messages we are given, even if those messages are tailor-made for us.”
Others were not so cautious. While praising Beyonce Tamara Winfrey-Harris is unable to ignore the fact that Beyonce’s role in—and support of—extreme capitalism is contradictory to her message: “Racism is not just a social ill. It is baked into the American economy. It is a business. Capitalism is a root of the tragedy of Katrina and the biased American penal system and the continuing primacy of European beauty standards. And getting rich is not anarchy.”
Still, however, Ms. Winfrey-Harris buys into the hype Ms. London refuses to accept: “What is undeniable, though, is that popular culture is powerful. It changes minds. An expression of unapologetic Blackness by Beyoncé, arguably the biggest star in the world, is important. Pointing out the beauty in the sort of Blackness society views with revulsion is revolutionary.”
Beyonce seems out of place. Image Courtesy of: http://hellobeautiful.com/2016/02/08/beyonce-formation-revolution-pop-culture/
As I wrote following the Baltimore riots, the American obsession with race misses the point completely. What a millionaire star does (regardless of whether they are black, white, or green) in ten minutes should not erase the incredible injustice of people—black, white, or green—who are working for 13 dollars an hour to serve 13 dollar beers. It is…insane. And it is a symptom of a global greed that, quite honestly, knows no color. That is why I, like Ms. London, am cautious of putting too much of an emphasis on any “message” a millionaire star might send. Perhaps a better message would have been sent by paying the workers volunteers who set up Beyonce’s halftime show, since—as Mr. Gabriel Thompson revealed—they are paid nothing to “lug the pieces of the stage onto the field for the halftime show, [putting] in at least 34 hours of rehearsal time [for] two weeks” as “unpaid labor, a subsidy of sorts for the Pepsi-sponsored halftime extravaganza”. Remarkable…but true.
On the day before the Super Bowl, on February 6 2016, across the ocean (it might as well be a galaxy far far away to many in the United States) in the United Kingdom, that other world the NFL is trying to get a foothold in, protests against social injustice characterized by greed took a different—and much more effective—form. Ten thousand Liverpool supporters walked out (and certainly they did not walk alone!) for the first time in the team’s 132 year history during the 77th minute of their team’s match against Sunderland. The reason? To protest the raising of the maximum ticket price to 77 Pounds from 59 Pounds. Of course, the fact that prices were raised should not come as a surprise when you know the owners of Liverpool FC are America’s Fenway Sports Group, who refused to respond to fans’ concerns. After all, they also own the Boston Red Sox…home to America’s highest priced Baseball tickets at just over 52 dollars on average.
Liverpool fans fly black flags instead of the traditional red flags as they exit Anfield Road. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/feb/06/liverpool-fans-walkout-thousands-ticket-price-protest
The issue of rising ticket prices—and frustration with American owners bringing their brand of extreme capitalism with them—is nothing new in the English Premier League, as evidenced by Jim White’s 2012 article in The Telegraph. It is part and parcel of the industrial football that is re-defining sports in Europe.
Three years ago Liverpool fans vented their frustrations against the American owners—and their extreme capitalism. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/columnists/jimwhite/9039432/Jim-White-Love-affair-Premier-Leagues-mega-rich-stars-have-lost-touch-with-their-disillusioned-supporters.html
Protests against this type of greed are now spreading. The Football Supporter’s Federation in England is now discussing a wide-spread walkout of all Premier League games this coming weekend, and this article from The Telegraph has a good graphic detailing ticket prices of all Premier League Teams. Ironically, the cheapest tickets—at 22 pounds—are to be found at Leicester City, the odds on favorites to win the championship. Let’s hope they do. In Germany Borussia Dortmund fans skipped the first twenty minutes of their 9 February 2016 German Cup match against VFB Stuttgart over Stuttgart’s 70 Euro ticket prices for the cup tie. The “Yellow Wall” didn’t leave it at that; they rained tennis balls down on the pitch as part of their protest.
“Football Must Be Affordable”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/35464102
Why Tennis Balls? The BBC Explains: “According to Dortmund fan Marc Quambusch, fans were being ironic. He says Germans use the expression “great tennis” to describe something very good.” Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/35464102
On two continents extreme greed—fuelled by extreme capitalism—is threatening sports. As fans have said in both England and Germany, enough is enough. In Liverpool’s case, it may have just worked. On Thursday 11 February 2016, the team’s owners announced that ticket prices will be frozen at this year’s level, 59 Pounds for the most expensive seats. It seems that the protest—perhaps backed by British PM David Cameron, worked. Of course, the team also learned a lesson on the pitch. When the fans left at the 77th minute Liverpool were up 2-0…after the fans left, the team conceded two late goals and drew Sunderland 2-2. Were the two lost points worth the proposed rise in prices? I would argue no, since it is good results that garner more money in the long run. For now, Fenway Sports Group did well to back down.
But it still doesn’t change the fact that across the world greed is governing business more and more. Whether in England, Germany, or the United States, there is too much emphasis on money, and it is slowly taking sports over as well. In the United States we should not be blinded by issues like race—which has lowered the societal problem of economic inequality to its lowest common denominator—because it hinders our ability to see wider issues. Sports is a big business, and if we do not stand up against this greed then we all lose—it does not matter if we are black or white for there is no color in being a sports fan. The fact that the biggest story from the Super Bowl was about race goes to show that people are at risk of missing the larger point. Football—and sport in general—is better with fans. Not consumers. Otherwise, there is no passion. And I would hate to live a life without passion.