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Time For A Change: The NFL’s Non-existent Policies on Human Trafficking During the Super Bowl

By:  Christina Campolo

Human trafficking is the illegal movement of people, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. For example, imagine a young girl, being kidnapped off the street, drugged by pimps, and sold for sex. Sex trafficking is prevalent around major sporting events like the Super Bowl. In fact, on February 2, 2015, the evening after the Super Bowl, Football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp was arrested in Arizona for allegedly soliciting a prostitute and assaulting two women. According to reports, Sapp was at a bar at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Phoenix where he started talking to two women (ages 23 and 24). Sapp invited the two women to his hotel room. While in his room, Sapp threw $100 bills at the women as they danced for him. After his arrest, Sapp reported to the police that he paid $300 to each woman for sexual acts and that he had recorded the events on his phone.

According to Sapp, the 23-year-old performed oral sex on him, while the 24-year-old hid in the bathroom. Sapp and the 23-year-old argued about money and Sapp grabbed her by her arms.  During the argument, the 24-year-old came out of the bathroom. Sapp threw the 23-year-old out of the room, knocking both women down. The police were called to the hotel on a noise disturbance complaint.  At the time of his arrest, Sapp was working as a Network Analyst for the NFL. Sapp was fired from his job with the NFL network shortly thereafter.

Although it may seem that the network’s reaction of firing Sapp sufficiently dealt with the issue, quite honestly it did not. The NFL failed to substantially address the issue by, (1) implementing policies against human trafficking; and (2) proactively raising awareness to prevent and combat human trafficking at the early stages.

In the United States, Human Trafficking is the second most profitable business, second to narcotics, bringing in roughly $150 billion annually. The Super Bowl is known as the “single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.” During the Super Bowl, approximately 30,000 to 60,000 women in the United States are trafficked.

In 2009, a young woman was advertised as a “Super Bowl special” during the Miami Super Bowl.” According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in 2010, more than 10,000 women and girls were exploited and trafficked to Miami for the Super Bowl. In 2011, there was a reported “300% increase” in Internet ads during the Dallas Super Bowl. Events where there will be a lot of men, money, and alcohol leads to an increase in the demand for commercial sex, which correlates with an increase in more sex trafficking. Pimps will transport both women and children into the city hosting the Super Bowl for the weekend. The average age for entering a child into prostitution is 13 years old.

The NFL’s Failures

 To prepare for the 2015 Super Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona, the NFL created a “social responsibility committee.” In September 2014, the NFL retained four women, including Anna Isaacson, the new Vice President of Social Responsibility to the NFL, to head efforts to combat issues of domestic violence and sexual assault on women. Cindy McCain, wife of U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, met officials from the NFL on two occasions to discuss helping the State of Arizona implement policies against human trafficking to avoid trafficking problems in the state of Arizona for the 2015 Super Bowl. McCain stated that the NFL has “given us great lip service, but they’ve done nothing. And all we wanted them to do was acknowledge the fact that it is a problem and acknowledge the fact that they are going to try to help on this.”

Despite creating a “social responsibility committee,” there was no explicit indication by the NFL that this committee took any preventative measures to combat human trafficking during the Super Bowl. In fact, after McCain’s multiple interactions with the NFL to discuss preventative measures for the 2015 Super Bowl, it seemed as though the committee was made for show. Although McCain met with NFL officials that were in charge of creating the “social responsibility committee,” McCain never actually met with the committee itself, even though the committee was specifically created to “help shape league policy” to address these specific concerns. Ultimately, no actual policies were developed to prevent or combat human trafficking during the 2015 Super Bowl. Moreover, no ads or commercials aired against human trafficking.

What Should the NFL Do? 

The NFL can take simple steps to prevent and combat human trafficking without breaking the bank. For example, it can air commercials during the Super Bowl in order to raise awareness. Due to the amount of revenue generated by the high costs of Super Bowl tickets, it would be highly plausible for the NFL to air a number of commercials without losing revenue. The commercials can feature players who are role models to many individuals. The NFL already airs commercials regarding domestic violence, why not do so with human trafficking? The fact that NFL airs domestic violence commercials and does not air similar commercials to raise awareness for human trafficking shows that human trafficking is not a priority to the NFL. The NFL will likely not be concerned about human trafficking until there is public outrage about an incident similar to Warran Sapp. Although the NFL thinks the reactive approach in the domestic violence realm is okay, it is not here.

The NFL should be held accountable if it is not proactive in combating and preventing human trafficking at the early stages. If the NFL is not willing to comply or work with state or federal legislation on this pressing issue, they should be made to pay fines. Furthermore, the NFL should offer monetary incentives to teams who advocate and raise human trafficking awareness on social media. If NFL players and their teams are spreading the word through social media sites, including email, text, Twitter, and Instagram, more people will gain awareness of this pressing issue, remain vigilant, and report suspicious activity to authorities. If the NFL required players and their teams to spread the word to combat and prevent human trafficking through social media, it would not be costly, time consuming, or place a burden on anyone.


Human Trafficking is a major problem in the United States. It is a problem that most individuals are unaware of because they believe it only occurs abroad. The NFL can take simple proactive steps to prevent and combat human trafficking. Without taking these simple steps, the NFL is not doing anything to prevent less Warren Sapp incidents from occurring.

Christina Campolo is a Senior Staff Member for the Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development ’15-’16.  She is a candidate for J.D. in June 2016.

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