I was outraged by the Super Bowl halftime show. I bet you were, too. I challenge you to do something with your outrage. Otherwise, it is a pointless waste of time.
First, I’m going to stir up your righteous anger even more. Then, I’m going to challenge you to do something with your anger.
The Super Bowl Halftime Show was not only pornographic — it was an internationally televised sexual grooming session.
As Catholics, we have had to ask ourselves, “How does sexual abuse go on for so long?” The answer: Perpetrators groom not only their victims, but often the entire community around the victim.
Clergy sex abuse survivors say perpetrators may victimize some children, but they groom the entire community. One survivor told me that the priest who abused him was a trusted friend of his family. The boy knew if he ever spoke up, the family would be more inclined to take the priest’s word over his.
I recently reviewed a book about public-school sexual abuse and harassment. The title of the book is Passing the Trash, with the dreadfully appropriate subtitle, “Covering Up Educators’ Sex Crimes — and How a Superintendent Was Caught after Decades of Lies.”
In the references to this book, I came across a 2017 publication from the U.S. Department of Education, “A Training Guide for Administrators and Educators on Addressing Adult Sexual Misconduct in the School Setting.” I discovered a section called “Grooming, Trolling and Exploiting.” On page 12, I read this:
Perpetrators methodically increase the attention and rewards they give to their targets. Grooming allows perpetrators to test their targets’ silence at each step. To nurture the relationship, perpetrators make the target feel “special” by, for example, brandishing gifts and/or spending extra time with the target in nonsexual ways, all in an effort to learn whether the target will keep silent. At the same time, the perpetrator is also testing the adults surrounding the child or school. … It is not uncommon for the behaviors to be done publicly so that the perpetrator can gauge reactions; share information (true or false) to manipulate how the behavior is interpreted by the adults; and further control the child victim. …
School personnel who engage in sexual jokes without being reprimanded might move on to making physical contact, such as touching a student’s hair or body. If the behavior goes unreported and unaddressed, the adult may grow bolder and escalate to increasingly sexualized behaviors.
Let’s return to the Super Bowl halftime show with this understanding in mind. Superstar pop singers Jennifer Lopez and Shakira performed a sexually stimulating act in front of millions of people. The Children’s Voice Chorus of Miami, with 40 children, some pre-adolescent, appeared amid the show’s sexual gyrations. Around the choir of young girls was the symbol for female. Millions applauded. No one objected.
The lesson is clear: Immodesty is empowerment. Femininity means thrusting your private parts toward a camera. A girl will be rewarded with applause and accolades for sexually stimulating strangers.
If no one objects, the perpetrators can move to the next step of taking sexual advantage of the vulnerable. In the weeks leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, sex trafficking surges. Last year, police arrested 169 in Atlanta on trafficking charges — including 34 with minors.
In preparation for this year’s Super Bowl, Miami hotel workers, ride-hailing service drivers and security personnel were given a crash course on combating human trafficking. The value of that well-intentioned training was certainly offset by the sexual stimulation of the halftime show.
Of course, the corporations responsible for the halftime show will never admit to being perpetrators of anything. They can find house feminists who will support them in saying the truly liberated modern woman is “sex positive.” Never mind all the other feminists and mothers and grandmothers and just plain normal people who do not agree at all. Their opinion doesn’t count. Support the sexualization of women and girls and you will be rewarded. Object and you will be denounced.
Now that I have you good and mad, what are we going to do about it? Let’s use our righteous anger and our platforms, limited though they may be, to express ourselves. Here’s a message we need to communicate loud and clear:
Corporate America, major media networks and the NFL, you have shown us that you are all-in for promoting the Sexual Revolution. Decision-makers at Pepsi, your halftime show equates overtly sexual displays as female empowerment and you roped young girls into performing. That’s sexual grooming!
NFL corporate executives, softening victims up to consent to sex more readily is sexual grooming. I hold you responsible for these decisions. You chose these performers. You have been making these types of decisions year after year. One can hardly believe this pattern is accidental.
Christian athletes, especially NFL players, we call on you to stop allowing your talent to be exploited. Let’s use Harrison Butker, kicker for the Super Bowl champs Kansas City Chiefs, as an example. He is a devout Catholic.
Great job on winning the Super Bowl! I’m sure you are thrilled. I am writing to you about something else: the halftime show.
Harrison, you are a good Catholic man. The halftime show was pornographic. It was worse than that, actually. It was designed to sexually stimulate the massive crowd. This sets up the conditions for sexual exploitation. Harrison, the NFL ostensibly sells football. That means you and your talent. But behind the sale of football, they are also selling advertising. The Pepsi Company is evidently selling pornography along with their soft drinks. They are using you and your talent for this unseemly purpose. And they do this at the same time that the FBI has warned of an increase in sex trafficking in Super Bowl cities.
I am asking you, as your sister in Christ, please do something about this. We ordinary fans and citizens do not know the inner workings of the corporate culture around the NFL. You are closer to it than we are. Please use your influence to put a stop to this. Because this needs to stop. What if it were your little daughter or sister being trafficked in the stadium parking lot?
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse
Write to your own favorite players. Do not shy away from making the connection between sexualized entertainment and sexual grooming.
When we are silent, the perpetrators move to the next step. Say it in your own words. But say something.
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the founder and president of the Ruth Institute.