The Super Bowl is a uniquely American party – a celebration of American sports and culture. This is a secular holiday. Unlike Christmas or the Fourth of July, the Super Bowl exists for its own sake.
The ancient Greeks played sports to honor the gods and train for war. Their art and poetry was religious and political. Our amusements do not have such elevated purposes.
Professional athletes play for money. They also play for love of the game. And the fans party because it’s fun. We pursue happiness as a self-evident good. Playing and partying are the fruits of freedom.
Secular societies liberate us to pursue happiness in our own way. This freedom to play gives birth to human excellence. Great athletes amaze. Great artists inspire. It is wonderful to witness what we do with our liberty.
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Some condemn secularism and humanism. Super Bowl fans fail to keep the Sabbath day holy. There is hedonism and excess, to be sure. Football can cause brain damage. The sport is plagued by sexism and commercialism.
But commerce is a secular pastime. On Super Bowl Sunday, capitalism becomes an art form. As the game plods along, Americans gather round to watch commercials.
This year there is a controversial ad by Budweiser that shows Adolphus Busch arriving in America. Grumpy Americans tell him to go back home. But Busch perseveres. And Budweiser is born.
Some narrow-minded nationalists may object to seeing this ad a week after President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees. They may also object to the fact that Budweiser is owned by a multinational corporation.
But Super Bowl Sunday is a multicultural party. We drink Corona, Heineken and Budweiser. We eat chips and salsa, pita and hummus, pizza, sushi and pigs-in-a-blanket. The world is on our plates. And the athletes we cheer have a variety of skin tones and religions.
Sports, art and cuisine can be subjected to political analysis. But play and pleasure are primarily activities enjoyed for their own sake. We don’t eat to make a political point. We don’t play sports to advance an agenda.
Reporters pestered Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu this week for a comment about Trump’s order. Sanu’s family fled Sierra Leone. He is one of the NFL’s few Muslims. Sanu refused to take the bait, saying he would rather focus on the game.
Some saw that as naïve, evasive and even irresponsible. But I think Sanu was right to focus on the game. It is important to leave politics aside every so often. The pursuit of athletic excellence is an end in itself.
We will argue politics and religion again soon enough. But the Super Bowl offers a pause. It’s a moment to be amazed by athletic genius. It’s a timeout for fun, food and football.
Political partisans and religious zealots may refuse the offer. They view everything as a serious struggle. They judge every action in binary terms: for or against, saved or damned.
That binary logic leaves no room for play. The world of the zealot is grumpy and cramped. But human beings need openness, spontaneity and joy. Lift up your head and throw out your arms. Run, jump, dance and sing. Play embraces the world, adding to its color. Gravity chokes the human spirit.
It’s good to relax
Life would be better if we had more secular holidays. There would be more high-fives and fewer raised fists, more fun and less fear, more amusement and less animosity. And we might learn to get along despite our differences.
Super Bowl parties provide a lesson in coexistence. Rival fans eat and drink together. Athletic excellence unites us in wonder. A diving catch in the corner of the end zone takes your breath away – no matter which team you prefer.
Not everyone likes football or beer or salsa. So what? In a free country you can find joy in basketball, soccer, opera or film. You can pursue your pleasures in caviar, coffee, cannabis or cake.
Secularism embraces the full range of human excellence and enjoyment. Creative freedom uplifts the spirit. The more playful, the better – the more diverse, the more interesting.
Monday the partisans will bicker again. But this weekend ignore them. And take a moment to enjoy the playful pleasure of being human.