Follow by Email

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Super Bowl and Violence Against Women (The Myth of)

Many of you are probably familiar with the claim made in 1993 that on Super Bowl Sunday violence against women jumps by as much as 40%. This was first noted by a coalition of women’s groups at a news conference a few days before the 1993 Super Bowl and followed up with an article in the Boston Globe a couple of days later. Also, a psychologist from Denver appeared on “Good Morning America”, claiming that she had gathered 10 years worth of data backing up this claim.

What you may not know is that there are no data supporting this claim. An investigative reporter from the Washington Post found that the Denver psychologist had never shown her data to anyone (and still hasn’t), and the other studies cited by the women’s groups in the original news conference did not support the claims that they made. Consequently, the Boston Globe retracted the story a few days later.

A blow-by-blow account of what happened can be found in Christina Sommers book, “Who Stole Feminism?”, and the citations to the articles, etc. can be found in the book's endnotes. Here are a few pertinent facts:
  • January 28, 1993 (Thursday) – News conference called by a coalition of women's groups announcing that anecdotal evidence suggests that Super Bowl Sunday is "the biggest day of the year for violence against women." It was also reported that Old Dominion University had conducted a study that had found that police reports of beatings and hospital admissions in northern Virginia rose 40% after games won by the Redskins during the 1988-1989 season. 
  • January 29, 1993 (Friday) – A Denver psychologist named Lenore Walker claimed on "Good Morning America" to have compiled 10 years worth of data showing a sharp increase in violent incidents against women on Super Bowl Sundays. 
  • January 30, 1993 (Saturday) – Article in the Boston Globe reports that women's shelters and hotlines are "flooded with more calls from victims on Super Bowl Sunday than on any other day of the year." She noted that one study of women's shelters in the West showed a 40% increase in calls on Super Bowl Sundays. 
  • January 31, 1993 (Super Bowl Sunday) – NBC broadcasts Super Bowl game and makes a special plea for men to remain calm, broadcasting a public service spot reminding men that domestic violence is a crime. CBS and Associated Press called Super Bowl Sunday a "day of dread." 
  • January 31, 1993 (Super Bowl Sunday) – While most newspapers and other media outlets picked up the story at face value, Ken Ringle of the Washington Post actually called around to check on the sources of he story and exposed the claims as a myth. He asked Janet Katz, professor of sociology at Old Dominion who was one of the principal investigators of the study about the connection between violence and football, and she said “That's not what we found at all.” Instead, they found that an increase in emergency room admissions “was not associated with the occurrence of football games in general.”
  • Ringle also called the reporter of the Boston Globe article to find out where she got her information. She said she never saw the study but had been told of it by a representative from FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting – a media watchdog group that fell down on the job in this case). FAIR then told Ringle that the authority for the 40% figure was Lenore Walker (see above) who in turn referred him to Michael Lindsay, another Denver psychologist, who admitted that he had never seen any data supporting the 40% figure. More to the point, Lenore Walker refused to release the data on which she based her claim, saying she doesn't use data for public consumption.
  • February 2, 1993 – The Boston Globe retracts its January 30th article in a story by Bob Hohler, who quotes several psychologists/counselors who said they didn’t believe the 40% figure when they heard it. He concluded, “Despite their dramatic claims, none of the activists appears to have any evidence that a link actually exists between football and wife-beating.”
  • May 1993 – A separate investigation by the American Journalism Review also concluded that there was no data to support the 40% figure although it did take exception to Ringle’s selective use of quotes out of context. 
Why a handful of people thought it necessary to make all this up is a question for another time. For now, enjoy the game.

1 comment:

  1. This summary may be fine and good in the world of statistics, but beware of statistics, as some things which remain "hidden" in our society never make it to the statistics, such as domestic violence. Having grown up in a household with domestic violence, I have to take issue with the conclusions reached in this blog. Any day with increased drinking or emotion IS IN FACT always filled with "Dread" on the part of the other family members. One never knows what may precipitate an episode of domestic violence...

    ReplyDelete