If you're like me, you typically spend Super Bowl Sunday drinking and eating like a pirate. Last year, 106.5 million people tuned in--the most drawn by a single program in American history--and most of them treated the day like a Dionysian carnival. But I'd argue that the game's unparalleled cultural and communal power could be directed toward a larger cause than overindulgence and commercial ubiquity: declare a federal holiday on the following Monday, and devote it to encouraging amateur athleticism.
First, the obvious: no one wants to work that day, and since some 1.5 million people will call in sick to work and 4.4 million show up late anyway, it would probably be a wash. Given that the average private-sector worker in the U.S. receives only six paid holidays a year, an extra day off would hardly dent our national productivity.
But more importantly, Super Bowl Monday could serve as a rallying point for reorienting our public understanding of sports and fighting the scourge of obesity. Dedicate the day to a midwinter festival of amateur athletics, and use it for things like volunteering to help Special Olympics kids, playing in community basketball and flag-football tournaments, and competing in charitable 5Ks and triathlons. A civic holiday with this kind of focus would not only alleviate hangovers, it would remind us that sports are supposed to be something participatory--something we engage in rather than watch.
Given the gravity of our other national holidays--reserved for days of religious reverence, or the remembrance of great presidents or military sacrifices--a day celebrating sports seems trivial. But sports are not trivial: at their best, they exemplify human excellence. They showcase the power of mental and physical dexterity marshaled toward a larger goal, and the sublime potential of individual creativity within a regulated structure. And as a metaphor sports supply some hard-won lessons--like the importance of enduring heartbreak with a measure of dignity and perspective. The ancient Greeks understood this, and saw in sports both noble sacrifices and heroic achievements worthy of their best art and poetry.
But athletics for the Greeks also had the pragmatic benefit of imparting the fitness and focus required for warfare. We too have long esteemed sports for what they can teach and inspire within us; increasingly, we should esteem them for how they help us fight obesity and promote a broader culture of physical activity. As my colleague Marc Ambinder explained in May, obesity is quickly becoming one of the nation's most intractable public-policy dilemmas, and fighting it will require every tool at our disposal. Inculcating a respect for amateur athletic endeavor--as something deeper and more edifying than watching highlight reels or playing fantasy leagues--would go a long way.
Will a holiday after the Super Bowl ever happen? Absolutely not--for starters, the costs associated with closing federal offices for a day would be prohibitive. Should we debate the role sports play in our culture and how our relationship to them could change for the better? I think so, and the day after the Super Bowl, in that familiar haze of intemperance, seems like a decent place to start.