Super Bowl novelty bets and our demand for distractions

One of today’s most successful news stories? Novelty bets on the Super Bowl.

From NPR‘s Morning Edition to FOX Sports Daybreak, this morning’s talk-radio roundup included plenty of discussion about so-called proposition bets. Also known as “prop or gimmick bets,” proposition bets provide viewers of the Super Bowl to gamble on virtually any aspect of the game; from Bruno Mars’ choice of hat at halftime to the color of the Gatorade dumped on the winning team’s coach, no topic is out of bounds. It’s estimated that nearly two-thirds of gambling activity around the Super Bowl will be comprised of such bets. Meanwhile, bets on more pertinent issues, such as the game’s final score or the spread between the two teams, will represent the minority share of this year’s wagers. According to The New York Times, prop bets are popular year round.”

The popularity and regularity of prop bets reflect an ongoing demand for distractions. Like the NFL’s most important game of the year, there are plenty of big, societal issues that call for Super Bowl-size attention–healthcare, education, jobs and poverty. However, when it comes time to kick off these initiatives, it’s all too common that we lose focus. From partisan politics to individual personalities to social stigmas, we begin to resemble Charlie Brown making repeated and failed attempts to even get the ball into the air. As with the Super Bowl, we place the majority of our bets on the small things, which together don’t really add up to real or tangible success.

When it comes to making progress on public policy and social justice, let’s leave the culture of distraction to the Super Bowl, casinos and office pools. Instead, let’s place big, audacious bets on the final score. More insured Americans. More job-ready high school and college graduates. More meaningful work. More access to opportunity. Not a novelty to be found.

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