Some Fans Trade Super Bowl for SoberBowl

Experts estimate that 125,000 people will descend on Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Super Bowl this weekend, and related events will see upwards of a million revelers come through their doors.

Businesses across the Twin Cities metro area are gearing up for an influx of customers—especially those close to the light rail. Approximately 100 drinking establishments in Minneapolis have extended the hour of last call at local bars until 4 a.m. It seems as if Prince’s hometown is getting ready to party like it’s 1999… and that’s not even counting the fans who are tuning in.

In fact, Men’s Health magazine estimates that people in the U.S. will drink 325.5 million gallons of beer on Super Bowl Sunday, which averages out to a little more than a gallon for every man, woman and child living in the U.S.

But what if you’re sober?

It’s hard to avoid alcohol-centric official parties, said Jeremiah Gardner, manager of the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy, especially for people who are just starting their recovery.

The pressure to drink is real. There’s usually lots of drinking at parties in private homes. it can be hard to navigate these situations gracefully and safely.

soberbowl rewire pbs
Source: CNN

“The reality is that most people don’t drink or don’t drink very much, and yet entertainment in this country is very centered around drinking,” he said. “People who don’t drink a lot don’t have a lot of options where that’s not in the mix.”

A group of individuals and pro athletes want to make sure football lovers in recovery from alcoholism have a safe and comfortable place to party, too.

Enter the SoberBowl

This year, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in St. Paul is sponsoring the SoberBowl, a substance-free Super Bowl watch party in Minneapolis featuring live music and comedy and hosted by Leigh Steinberg, famed sports agent and inspiration for the movie “Jerry Maguire.”

The first SoberBowl took place during last year’s Super Bowl in Houston and attracted 1,000 sober football fans. Founder Tracy Abbott of Houston organization The ARK hopes the event continues following the championship game around the country, eventually spreading to every major city. It’s happening again in Houston this year.

“The goal would be to have an upscale, high-end experience in the Super Bowl host city, endorsed by the NFL,” she said.

Hazelden is a Minnesota institution in its own right. Founded in 1949 at a Minnesota lakeside farmhouse, Hazelden is one of the oldest in-patient rehabilitation centers in the U.S.

“The production and the talent (at SoberBowl) is all going to be on par with some of the best parties in town,” Gardner said. “We’re excited to not have a throwaway sober event but one that fits with the hooplah of the Super Bowl itself. … The Super Bowl is sort of a global stage and we like to think of the Twin Cities as the recovery capital of the world, because we have such a rich and robust sober community.”

A little help from the players

A lot of sober social events take place in church basements or other somber settings, Abbott said. SoberBowl aims to destigmatize sober living and make sober parties cool.

soberbowl rewire pbs
Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Sober athletes are on board, too. Carl Eller of the Minnesota Vikings and Ryan Leaf of the San Diego Chargers, who now tells his story of imprisonment and recovery for teenagers struggling with substances, will be hanging out at the Minneapolis SoberBowl. It’s Abbott’s goal to have the NFL sign on as an official supporter of the annual parties.

Gardner, who has been sober 11 years, said that, at the beginning of his recovery, “it was a real sort of foreign concept, this notion of being able to have fun without drinking. It just didn’t even make sense to me, because it had been such a normal part of my life for so long.”

Events like SoberBowl can make it easier, he said.

“I hope there are people who come to sober bowl who are new to recovery,  because it will be great for them to see 1,000 other people who are smiling, laughing, listening to music, maybe even dancing and enjoying themselves,” Gardner said. “That’s when recovery and sobriety start to look attractive, is when you see that.”

A safe Super Bowl, no matter where you are

If you’re in recovery and plan to go to a party at someone’s home, you can do these things to help you have a comfortable and fun time:

1. Go with someone else who doesn’t drink, or ask someone to be your non-drinking buddy.

Gardner pointed out that half of people in the U.S. don’t drink much or at all.

2. Keep something in your hand.

“One way to get comfortable real fast is to get a beverage—soda, water—and have it in your hand so you’re not sort of feeling uncomfortable with empty hands,” Gardner said.

3. Come up with a canned answer.

“Some people get worried about what they’re going to say if somebody offers them a drink,” he said. “(Have a) planned answer so you don’t have to worry about it or think about it on the spot: ‘I just don’t feel like it tonight,’ or ‘I’m driving home,’ or ‘I don’t drink.'”

4. Remember you don’t have to go.

“Football is kind of fun to watch in the comfort of our own home, too, if you’re uncomfortable about being some place where theres going to be a lot of drinking or if you’re not looking forward to it because it’s always yucky (for you) to be around people who are drinking a lot,” Gardner said.

If you’re throwing or attending a party at home and you are a drinker, you can take steps to make the space comfortable for friends who don’t drink, whether they’re in recovery or if they just choose not to.

“I think it behooves you to have nonalcoholic options, not force people who don’t drink to have to ask for something different or go to the garage to find a soda,” he said.

This article is part of  “Living for the City,” a Rewire initiative made possible by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Katie Moritz

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.