The notion first arose in the early 1990s and it has never gone away. It’s the frequently repeated claim that violence against women — and specifically domestic violence — explodes in record numbers each year during the Sunday upon which America’s big pro football championship game occurs.
Indeed, a key part of the often shared story is that those who work with abused women have deemed the annual big football event the “Day of Dread.”
For a number of years, mainstream news outlets reported this topic, culminating in a July 28, 1993, press conference, mounted shortly before the big game, by a coalition of women’s groups in which it was stated forthrightly by credible figures that the Sunday of the championship was “the biggest day of the year for violence against women.”
Noted experts and journalists have long espoused this idea, even citing statistics.
Following the press conference, Lenore Walker, an esteemed psychologist who authored the book, The Battered Woman, told Good Morning America that she had put together a decade’s worth of evidence solidifying the idea that the big game meant big-time violence committed against females.
Shortly thereafter, The Boston Globe reported that, on Game Day, women’s shelters and abuse hotlines get “flooded with more calls from victims than on any other day of the year.”
No doubt, all their intentions were noble. Domestic violence and any kind of abuse of women is a horrific problem and an ongoing American tragedy that should be put in the spotlight and kept there as often as possible. The only problem with this particular campaign is that the core concept simply was not true.
Washington Post reporter Ken Ringle diligently checked the sources of the assertions being made about Game Day spikes in female-directed violence. One after another, he found the claims to be flat-out false. He reported his discoveries in a landmark July 31, 1993, article entitled, “Debunking the ‘Day of Dread’ for Women.”
Janet Katz, an Old Dominion University professor whose work had been cited at the press event, told Ringle that she and her fellow researcher had been entirely misquoted. She said, “That’s not what we found at all … [domestic violence] was not associated with the occurrence of football games in general, nor with watching a team lose.”
Ringle also checked with University of Buffalo professor Charles Patrick Ewing, a forensic psychologist who wrote the book Battered Women Who Kill. Ewing’s work was invoked in the claim that hotlines experience more calls on the big game day than at any other time. He told Ringle, “I don’t think anybody has any systematic data on any of this … I never said that; I don’t know that to be true.”
That same day that The Washington Post ran Ringle’s thoroughly vetted piece of investigative journalism, The New York Times reported the proven false claims to be facts, with reporter Robert Lypsite writing:
“If … tradition holds, more women than usual will be battered today in their homes by the men in their lives; it seems an inevitable part of the post-game show. A big football game on television invariably becomes the Abuse Bowl for men conditioned by the sports culture to act out their rage on someone smaller.”
Nearly a quarter-century later, the bogus notion continues to be passed along and still regularly gets represented as the truth. The idea has entered the popular consciousness as being reality, even thought reality doesn’t back it up, turning the “Day of Dread” into its own urban legend.
In 2015, Ringle told the New Republic in no uncertain terms, “I proved that all their assertions and demographics were fraudulent. But the myth persists. It’s harder to kill than a vampire. It resurfaces every year at this time.”
On the positive side, major-league football partnered with NoMore.org to create and air anti-domestic-violence PSAs during the past two big games. Such consideration is important — and so, too, is the truth.
Main photo: “Domestic Violence” free image [Pexels]