HARPER: Beware of big media myths about the Big Game

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As the hype over the Super Bowl heats up, you’re likely to hear analyses, strategies, statistics and some outright myths from journalists surrounding the Big Game. Here’s a cheat sheet on which to take with a very large grain of salt:

Myth No. 1: More women suffer domestic abuse on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year.

This myth, propagated 20 years ago, still manages to get an annual airing. The group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting held a news conference before the 1993 game to announce this “finding,” and a subsequent mailing convinced many reporters the reports were true. Robert Lipsyte of The New York Times referred to the game as the “Abuse Bowl.” The report appeared in newspapers throughout the country and continues to be cited.

Subsequent investigation showed the research to be untrue when the authors of a study on which the claim was based came forward, saying Super Bowl Sunday was no worse than most days. Furthermore, a 2006 study in the “Handbook of Sports and Media” examined domestic violence police dispatches in 15 NFL cities. The researchers found only a slight rise in domestic violence on or after the Super Bowl. By comparison, they found an increase of nearly five times the normal rate around holidays like Christmas. Longtime researchers Barbara and David P. Mikkelson provide more information at snopes.com.

Myth No. 2: Suicides increase, particularly among followers of the losing team. Psychologist Thomas Joiner and fellow researchers investigated whether membership in a group, such as supporters of a sports team, resulted in changes in suicide rates. The researchers found fewer suicides occurred on Super Bowl Sundays than on other Sundays.

Myth No. 3: The water systems of the United States face massive overloads at halftime because of increased toilet flushing. It is true Salt Lake City suffered the breakdown of a 16-inch pipeline during the 1984 Super Bowl, but the incident had nothing to do with the football game, said Leroy Hooton, the director of the city’s public utilities at the time. “It’s a very good story,” Mr. Hooton said. “There just doesn’t seem to be any truth behind it.” But the myth has been repeated so frequently, it has become a “fact.”

Myth No. 4: More than a billion people watch the Super Bowl. That would be roughly one-seventh of the total world population. Even though the football game is broadcast to more than 200 countries, only about one-seventh of the world population can actually view the game. While the game is the No. 1 television event of the year in the United States, the estimated audience here was slightly more than 111 million last year.

Myth No. 5: The Super Bowl is an exciting game. Almost every sports fan knows this one: Only 15 of the 46 previous games have been decided by seven points or fewer.

Alongside the myths, however, there are some truths. More pizzas are delivered on Super Bowl Sundays than any other day of the year. More fatal traffic accidents occur after the game, particularly in the cities that have teams participating in the game. And more people suffer heart attacks than on average, according to Psych Central.

So enjoy the game and keep this cheat sheet handy to debunk the myths. Drink responsibly, drive safely and stay calm.

Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at the Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at charper@washingtontimes.com.

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