Buddhist Thoughts on The Super Bowl

Richard Sherman, Buddhist Super Bowl, Forbes Super Bowl Ad $4 million

I wonder, as I prepare to host a Super Bowl party with my girlfriend for people who don’t really care about the Super Bowl (aka artists and Buddhists), what future sociologists might think about the event. Will they think it was a beautiful celebration of the human drive to achieve and compete? Or will they think it is a greed-driven gladiator arena, a 21st century Rome, emblematic of a society in steep decline? Optimism tells me the former, realism tells me the latter.

I have to say, I admire how well the event has been branded over time. It is the only event in human history where people tune in, explicitly excited to watch advertisements! Talk about an effective sell.

The average price paid for 30 seconds with everyone’s eyeballs is $4 million. That’s amazing!

I did manage to watch the championship games, which were supremely exciting for all the Buddhist gladiators out there. In case you missed it, there was a huge uproar over Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman’s post game interview (below), after making a great game-saving play in the end zone. You can see the intensity of his arrogance, which rivals the staged interviews of a Macho Man Randy Savage wrestling match.

This interview sparked a huge controversy over whether he was merely being confident about his victory, or being totally ungracious and arrogant. The blogs were tinged with questions of racism and culture which were very interesting to ponder. Many posts defending Sherman reminded us that he is a graduate of Stanford with a 3.9 GPA.

Personally, I don’t think anything beats being gracious, especially when you just won the game, and pretending that this interview is anything other than a festival of neurotic behavior would be hard to pull off. After all, how many other players on the same field, who came from similar circumstances, had more sportsmanlike composure after the game? That’s not to say Sherman is a bad guy at all, it’s just to say that confidence and arrogance are palpably different phenomena, and we all fall on the wrong side of that fine line at times. You can see the interviewer wincing, the way people wince when they feel like they’re in too close to somebody else’s neurosis. We’ve all been there, on both sides. I know I have. We can critique an action without vilifying a person, which is one of the most important distinctions that studying the Dharma has taught me.

Anyways, I’m looking forward to explaining the rules of football to about 20 people who have no idea what’s going on on the screen. Enjoy the game, or else enjoy real life!


4 thoughts on “Buddhist Thoughts on The Super Bowl

  1. I think this article by Richard Sherman is interesting — and not un-Buddhist. He apologizes (you can’t make yourself big by making someone small), he observes that the NFL makes money off the behavior it condemns, he notes that it’s not about him, Richard Sherman, but what people project onto him, and he acknowledges impermance. I’d stay he’s got a good understanding of the eight worldly winds: praise and blame, fame and ill repute, especially.

  2. Great post, Ethan.

    The response to Sherman’s interview was the most overt display of mass, knee-jerk racism I’ve seen in a while. You could see it ripple on Twitter in the thousands within minutes of it happening: “Loud Black Man? Oh, he’s a thug.” I got the sense that for many people this was some sort of brain stem response, the product of deep conditioning over time. Loud+Black=Thug, Criminal.

    Because the truth is Richard Sherman has accomplished a hell of a lot more than most people have, and he did it with less than most of us have been given. He grew up in Compton, California. He was salutatorian of his high school class, the first person from his school to be accepted into Stanford. He went on to receive a 3.9 GPA while playing as a starter (a full time job in itself). Before being drafted, he began working on his Masters. Basically, he did everything right.

    Yet, one outburst and he’s reduced to a caricature.

    The truth is, Sherman’s comments WERE over the top. There’s sort of an unspoken rule that all the trash talking stops once the games over, even between teams with deep rivalries. I’m sure people who watch the NFL understand this, because most post game press conferences are so so incredibly boring.

    Yet, once you put Sherman’s situation into context, it makes a lot more sense: he had just punched his team’s ticket to the Superbowl, defeated a player who he considered a rival in a one-on-one situation, and backed up all his talk that he’s the best cornerback in the game. Can you imagine the amount of neurotransmitters floating in his brain at that moment? Few people would be able to hold themselves back. I would not.

    Yet, remove the context, and this guy just becomes another easy signifier of certain people’s racist beliefs. If Richard was a white guy, no one would have cared.

    So, to prove this has something to do with Buddhism, here’s my take: As people who are inspired by the Dharma, we should probably try to only be concerned with our own actions and thoughts, not what others do. But, if we are going to judge what others do, we sure as hell better have some empathy to their situation and context before we open our mouths. Without that, whatever we think or say is likely to be the product of our own conditioning and prejudices.

  3. I don’t really feel qualified to comment. I haven’t had a TV in 8 years, I don’t know what’s happening, anything about sports or who Richard Sherman is….

    But what I find interesting is how this man is presented and what is says about us, or the culture at large. Clearly the presentation of sports, athletes and presenters has changed a lot since the old black and white news reels. I’m pretty sure people haven’t changed but I guess society has. This is entertainment right? This is how we want to see our heroes. I can’t help but think there’s a bit of performance coming from both sides because it sells. It’s not about him, it’s about us.

    Although… Now I’m reminded of Muhammad Ali’s ‘I am the Greatest’ speech which is from 1964 so maybe it’s more about sports psychology and the places athletes need to go in their minds to win.


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