The Controversy Surrounding the Super Bowl and its Link to Human Trafficking

The Super Bowl is considered one of the biggest sporting events around the world. It is known for its audience of millions, outrageous halftime show, expensive commercials, and let’s not forget the game that determines the NFL championship. However, not everything is good advertising, with the super bowl being this huge and popular is a target for suspected illegal activities surrounding human trafficking. 

According to human trafficking statistics perfomed by the Institute for Sport and Social Justice’s “Shut Out Trafficking” program, in 2019 there was a rise in individuals arrested, suspected or charged with human trafficking activities in the United States around January and February (months when the Super Bowl takes place). In January 2019, there were nearly 450 reported incidents, with an increase to 540 in February, dropping down to 140 in March. Even though the association between the increase of human trafficking and large sporting entertainment events have been investigated with similar large scale events such as the Olympics Games and the FIFA World Cup, there is no real evidence to back up the accusations, and not enough research on the topic to validate this relationship (Boecking et al, 2019).

When exploring expert’s perspectives Lauren Martin, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who has studied human trafficking at the mega event says: “We have this sort of idea that somehow the Super Bowl is different than other events, but it’s not,”. Although incidents of trafficking do increase modestly during the Super Bowl, it cannot be solely associated to this one event (referring to her 2018 Super Bowl analysis). Likewise, Luis C.deBaca, former U.S. anti-trafficking ambassador-at-large, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that “The annual stories that one sees about human trafficking at the Super Bowl perhaps reflect the tendency in the media to require a ‘hook’ in order to confront uncomfortable social problems.”

In conclusion, these deviant practices cannot be exclusively connected to the Super Bowl without fundamental research to validate the claims. Also, other factors such as: duration, place, time of the year, or even amount of effort put in investigation towards this social issue should be taken into account as they could be impacting the numbers of human trafficking incidences, and not necessarily the event itself, giving us a correlation rather than a causation. In a study by researchers from Wichita University about social problems in Major League Baseball (MLB), fans were found to deviate because of anonymity and because they have a different idea of what the game is about. This is another idea that requires our attention when establishing a relationship between large scale events such as the Super Bowl and human trafficking.


Featured image: Hard Rock Stadium (Source: Getty Images)

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