The deeper lessons of the Super Bowl

American football isn’t for everyone, but it can teach us something about politics.


Goal! Enjoy with a hot dog and a beer or maybe not
(Image credit: ©Icon Sportswire (A Division of XML Team Solutions) All Rights Reserved)

American football isn't for everyone, but it can teach us something about politics.

If you're anything like me, you were probably blissfully unaware that the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots in last weekend's Super Bowl. But there are, it seems, plenty of people who set great store by it.

The American football tournament is now one of the highlights of the American sporting and cultural calendar and has even reached a significant global audience. London venues laid on special events at Spearmint Rhino, for example, you could enjoy dancers, four stages of pre-game shows and even waitress service of your "pre-ordered pizza". Judge for yourself how tempting that sounds.

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But in the US, for many households the event comes second only to Christmas in importance with many people holding viewing parties for friends and family. Overall, Americans spent an estimated $15bn on game-related expenses, says Zlati Meyer of USA Today. That sounds like a lot, but it's only about $80 per fan or about the cost of something approaching a decent meal out. And what the Americans are spending their money on sounds a good deal less wholesome than that.

Biotech executive Jed Latkin, for example, ordered $2,000 worth of food and drinks for his 40 guests, but all they got was a six-foot submarine sandwich, trays with about 400 chicken wings, five pounds of potato chips, two gallons of salsa and 200 cocktail-size hot dogs. I'd have kept the money and taken a quiet night out instead, preferably somewhere with a noticeable lack of giant TV screens.

The shaky grounds of democracy

Believe it or not, there are however important political lessons to be drawn from the spectacle, as Jonathan Bernstein points out on BloombergView. Political scientist Seth Masket tweeted that, although he knew very little about the game, he did have "strong feelings about Ertz's end zone catch.

See how that feels, low information voters?" I have no idea what that means, but Bernstein explains that the deciding game in the football tournament turned on a little-understood and much-debated rule. Masket, despite not having any expertise on the subject, or really any interest in it whatever, had nevertheless developed a passing and rooting passion for the result and so had wound up having a strong opinion about the rule.

Remind you of anything? Imagine, says Bernstein, if Masket had been asked to vote or register his opinion about the rule, or decide whether it was a good one. He would have a ready and very strong opinion on the subject, and yet just a week either side of the day in question, he might have declined to leave his armchair over the matter as he just didn't know enough or care about it. In fact, a majority of people just don't know or care about football, and asking them for their opinion about an obscure rule seems a poor way of making a decision.

I hope I'm not asked again to judge whether or not Britain should be a member of the European Union. But some decisions are rightly those of individuals, regardless of their depth of wisdom. And so I feel justified in sticking to my previous strongly held opinion Super Bowl parties are just not for me.

Tabloid money Formula 1 calls time on its leggy models

The Houses of Parliament cost £2m when architect Charles Barry designed them in 1840 £200m at today's prices, says Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail. That seems very good value compared with the £3.9bn it will cost to restore the buildings now. Last week's vote by MPs to go ahead with the work is "contemptuous ofthe public at a time of economic austerity".

I know what I should say about Formula 1 calling time on its tradition of "grid girls" "those leggy models who hold signs in front of cars", says Rachel Johnson in The Mail on Sunday. With the centenary of the female vote this week, I should say we aspire to more than being paid to be pretty; that it is at odds with the austere modern-day values of the #MeToo era. Yet, I'm not quite so on-message.

One, women have a right to choose their career. And two, sport is a commercial business. "It's all about razzmatazz, and if you take away the spritz and fizz, you're going to lose punters." As the Fawcett Society, named in honour of my distant ancestor Millicent Fawcett, points out, it will take 100 years to close the gender pay gap at the current rate of progress. "We women must pick our battles."

The grid-girl models have every right to be angry about losing their jobs, says Saira Khan in The Sunday Mirror. But don't blame feminism. Why teach our children that women in sport are just mute models? Why did we never hear a grid girl's opinion of the industry? The models "should be angry with bosses who failed to see their potential beyond their chests and teeth".