With all due respect to baseball, football is America’s game and Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest single-day sporting event in the USA. I am even part of an annual fantasy football league with my family members. I grew up watching my hometown Miami Dolphins. Last year, I was volunteering with the Super Bowl Committee in Miami Beach at the NFL Experience. We tried to make the visit to the Miami Beach Convention Center welcoming and fun for fans of all ages. The NFL team was very kind and respectful to the volunteers.
Yet each year, a shadow is cast on the Super Bowl host city. In a typical year, hundred of thousands of out-of-state visitors as well as hundreds of thousand more in state visitors attend Super Bowl events. These events tend to attract more affluent sectors of the population who are keenly aware of the alternative “entertainment” choices that surround the Super Bowl.
This year, the International Justice Mission (IJM)—a Christian organization working to protect people in poverty from human trafficking, slavery and other forms of violence—partnered with the Hillsborough County Commission on Human Trafficking to support their anti-trafficking work around the Super Bowl. Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback, Kirk Cousins (and many NFL players others), are members of the IJM’s pro athlete group. Leading up to the game, they were speaking up.
In the article, Cousins stated that “And [human traffickers are] able to do this, they’re able to get away with it because it operates in the shadows,” he added.
Given that last year’s game was in my home county of Miami-Dade, I wondered about successes achieved last year. Miami-Dade State Attorney, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who started the Human Trafficking Task Force in Miami in 2012, swiftly provided some insight when asked.
Ms. Rundle stated, “Human trafficking is a 24/7 non-stop business unaffected by a global pandemic. Its abuse of the young, often our own children from our own communities, aims to steal their lives and their future by transforming them into walking cash machines whose sole job is to enrich their traffickers. During this pandemic, we have made arrests of traffickers and rescued victims while targeting those hotels that enable human trafficking and other crimes to flourish.”
She added that “Our success in last year’s Super Bowl can be best measured by the rescue of 18 human trafficking victims from their slave-like existence. That was possible because we had an aggressive awareness campaign, a coordinated law enforcement effort and most importantly, we had the help of the community. It takes a million eyes to help put an end to the scourge of human trafficking.”
This leaves me wondering about subsequent Super Bowls in Los Angeles, Phoenix and New Orleans, respectively. There are tens of millions of eyes in glitzy Los Angeles for example, but what can we do to shine a light on human trafficking? I am sure Miami and Tampa officials will share their knowledge with Los Angeles and future host cities. To me, the simple responses are to donate (money or even time) to Human Trafficking causes like Life Preservers Project aimed to raise awareness, help victims, and support survivors and to continue our efforts to encourage local, state and national officials to do more.
That light will bring this blight out of the shadows into the clear view of millions of eyes who will have no choice but to…respond.