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Sunday, January 31, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Super Myth? Purported Link Between Super Bowl And Wife Beating Is Doubtful

Washington Post

As beer cools and testosterone surges on this megaday of professional football, a network of feminist activists has orchestrated a national campaign to ask men to stop beating their wives and girlfriends after the Super Bowl.

In an effort to combat what the Associated Press and CBS have labeled a "day of dread" for women, the organizers have prevailed on NBC, broadcaster of the Super Bowl, to air a public-service announcement against wife-beating before today's big game. "Domestic violence is a crime," the announcer intones.

Despite their dramatic claims, none of the activists appears to have any evidence to link football and wife-beating. Yet the concept has gained such credence that their campaign has rolled on unabated.

Last week, it produced:

-- A news conference near Super Bowl central in Pasadena, Calif., declaring Super Bowl Sunday "the biggest day of the year for violence against women."

-- An interview on "Good Morning America" in which Denver psychiatrist Lenore Walker claimed to have compiled a 10-year record of violent incidents against women on Super Bowl Sundays.

-- A story in the Boston Globe declaring that women's shelters and violence hotlines are "flooded with more calls from victims (on Super Bowl Sunday) than any day of the year."

-- Announcement of a nationwide phone bank to field calls about domestic violence during the Super Bowl and seek money for the phone bank, by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a media watchdog with an active feminist wing.

-- A public-relations mailing from Dobisky Associates in Keene, N.H., warning at-risk women: "Don't remain alone with him during the game."

Some experts on domestic violence, however, are dubious.

"You're dealing in an area where there's a lot more folklore than fact," said David Silber, chairman of the Department of Psychology at George Washington University and a longtime scholar of domestic violence. "I know of no study documenting any such link" between football and/or Super Bowls and domestic violence. "And I know the literature very well."

"I don't think anybody has any systematic data on any of this," said Charles Patrick Ewing, a forensic psychologist and author of "Battered Women Who Kill."

Yet Ewing is quoted by Dobisky as saying that "Super Bowl Sunday is one day in the year when hotlines, shelters and other agencies that work with battered women get the most reports and complaints of domestic violence."

"I never said that," Ewing said. "I don't know that to be true."

Told of Ewing's response, Frank Dobisky acknowledged that the quote should have read "one of the days of the year."

The news conference in Pasadena Thursday cited a study purporting to document a link between domestic violence in Northern Virginia and games played by the Washington Redskins in 1988-89.

According to an AP story, Sheila Kuehl, managing lawyer of the California Women's Law Center, said a study at Old Dominion University in Norfolk found police reports of beatings and hospital admissions rose 40 percent after games won by the Washington Redskins.

But when asked about that assertion, Janet Katz, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion and one of the study's authors, said, "That's not what we found at all."

One of the most notable findings, she said, was that an increase of emergency-room admissions was not linked to football in general or watching a team lose.

When they looked at winning days, however, they found that the number of women admitted for gun shots, stabbings, assaults, falls, cuts and wounds from being hit by objects was slightly higher. But certainly not 40 percent.

"These are interesting but very tentative findings, suggesting what violence there is from males after football may spring not from a feeling of defensive insecurity, which you'd associate with a loss, but from the sense of empowerment following a win," Katz said. "We found that significant. But it certainly doesn't support what those women are saying in Pasadena."

Kuehl, who described the study in Pasadena, could not be reached.

Linda Mitchell, of FAIR, who appeared at the news conference with Kuehl and made similar links between domestic violence and Super Bowl Sunday, said she recognized at the time that Kuehl was misrepresenting the Old Dominion study.

Did she, as a FAIR representative, challenge her colleague?

"I wouldn't do that in front of the media," Mitchell said. "She has a right to report it as she wants."

And what of psychiatrist Walker, who made the case on "Good Morning America" linking domestic violence and football? She was out of town when called Friday, but her office referred callers to Michael Lindsey, a Denver psychotherapist and authority on battered women.

"I haven't been any more successful than you in tracking down any of this," Lindsey said.

And the Boston Globe article, citing "one study of women's shelters out west" that "showed a 40 percent climb in calls" to shelters and hotlines on Super Bowl Sunday?

Globe reporter Lynda Gorov said she never saw the study but had been told about it by FAIR. FAIR's Mitchell said the authority on it was Walker. Walker's office referred callers to Lindsey.

"You think," Lindsey asked, "maybe we have one of these myth things here?"

Could be. Part of what's going on, apparently, is the twin phenomena of media convergence and media orchestration, in which lenses are focused, hoping to piggyback their message out to millions.

Said author/psychologist Ewing: "It's true there may be an agenda on the part of some people to have this issue put forward just now. They can force NBC to put on those (public service) spots."

In her appearance on "Good Morning America" with Walker, FAIR Women's Desk coordinator Laura Flanders said NBC's broadcast of the public-service spot was the result of a "nationwide campaign" mobilized by FAIR and groups like the Women's Action Coalition and "national and statewide anti-domestic-violence coalitions."

However, NBC spokesman Curt Block said the anti-abuse coalition was "only one of many groups hoping to get their message out to the very large Super Bowl audience" and said NBC made the decision to help them "because their cause is a good one" and not because of any link, real or imagined, between domestic violence and football.

As for the anecdotal evidence of such a link, Ewing said, "I think the best you could do would be to go to some women's shelters and ask people."

Dan Byrne, coordinator for domestic violence at the House of Ruth in the District of Columbia, said "we've never run any figures" on such things after the Super Bowl or Redskins games.

If there had been the big yearly increase that Super Bowl critics were describing, wouldn't it have come to his attention?

"Well, yes."

And had it? "No."

Grace Osini, educational coordinator at the D.C. shelter called My Sister's Place, said flatly that her shelter has noted "no increase at all" in calls or admissions after either the Super Bowl or any other football game.

"I'm a sociologist myself," she said. "When I heard those figures on television, they didn't add up to me either.

"You know," Lindsey said, `" hate this. I've devoted 14 years of my life trying to bring to the public's attention the very serious problem of battered women. And when people make crazy statements like this, the credibility of the whole cause can go right out the window."

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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