Human Trafficking and the Age of the College Football Playoff

2 years ago ccwa 0

College Football Playoff Announces The College Football Playoff Selection Committee - News ConferenceCorporate sponsors and the tourism industry uniformly regarded the inaugural appearance of the  College Football Playoff this fall as a business opportunity, while fans of the sport simply applauded the changeover as a solution to the speculation and controversy that marred the landscape of college football under the BCS system. Instead of two schools granted the opportunity to leave their team’s mark in college football history come season’s end, four teams will now battle for the title. Three cities instead of one now hold elimination national championship semi-finals and the final itself, sharing the benefits from tourism and the economic gains of a major sporting event. This year, Pasadena (Los Angeles), California; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas were the three cities that held the semi-final and final college football playoff games. Each of these cities saw thousands of tourists pack their hotels, eat and drink at their restaurants and bars, and visit their tourist sites.

However, there is a hidden cost to the exponential growth of the college football business. Much like the Super Bowl that will air on February 1st, the world of college football will welcome unwanted visitors to its seasonal playoffs. Human traffickers and prostitution rings regard these new major sporting events as perfect opportunities to cash in on the chaos.

Major sporting events such as the CFP National Championship in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas attract hundreds of thousands of tourists and visitors and all of these people seek entertainment. Looking to capitalize on this demand, human traffickers make the opportunistic decision to flock to these sporting events as a way to make quick profits with slim chances of being caught amidst the tumult. Traffickers advertise commercial sex with often-underage girls and boys on the Internet, and research by the State Department’s annual report on the trafficking of humans shows that as a major sporting event nears, advertisements for this sort of entertainment increase dramatically. On top of this harsh reality, more calls to the national human trafficking hotline come from Texas than any other state in the United States, with 15% of these calls coming from the Dallas-Fort Worth area alone.

Two types of human trafficking are derivative of major sporting events: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Labor trafficking plagues international sporting events such as the Olympics or World Cups due to the amount of cheap labor required by host countries to build stadiums, athletic facilities, and infrastructure, but the type most likely to occur domestically at American football playoffs and championships is forced sex slavery. Eighty percent of all human trafficking is of a sexual nature, and 12-14 year runaways are overwhelmingly the victims.

Many Americans and citizens of industrialized ‘rich’ countries do not realize the full scope of human trafficking, especially in their own countries. This crime is estimated to make an annual 32 billion dollars in profits, and of this number fifteen and a half billion is made from industrialized countries. 83% of all human trafficking victims are American as well per the State Department’s annual report on the trafficking of persons. This is not just a crime involving the poor and vulnerable – huge sporting events where copious amounts of well-off individuals (mostly men, in this case) congregate create situations with perfect white-collar customers for this loveless business. Traffickers, like any good businesspeople, follow the money and take advantage of what they perceive as fabulous business opportunities at these events.

The mainstream media began to really dial in on this narrative during last year’s Super Bowl XLVIII, when advocates and government officials alike stated that the Super Bowl weekend in New York City would be the largest weekend for sex trafficking in the United States. The number of sexual favor solicitations online during the week leading up to the game doubled and tripled by the date of the actual game. The increased media attention helped further mainstream knowledge of human trafficking. One major sting by federal law enforcements and local police forces, in which 45 traffickers were arrested and 16 children were saved from sexual slavery, was made public during Super Bowl weekend. Victims reported having been sold in packages to groups of mostly men who bought prostitutes, drugs, and alcohol together from traffickers in what they described as ‘party packages,’ and one girl even described seeing up to fifty ‘Johns’ a day during the period leading up to the Super Bowl.. An unfortunate reality is that tens or hundreds of these exploited modern-day slaves were not rescued during the same weekend in the same city.

This year’s CFP National Championship had the ability to be much more like a Super Bowl than national championships of years past. The CFP was structured more like a corporate entertainment event than previous national championship games by the nature of the time and place it was held and the demographics of those attending. In years past, fans had only one national championship game to travel to, and the attendees at these games would be strongly polarized in their preference for one team or the other, with overall ticket sales coming mostly from the two states of the two schools that were playing. With two postseason games to attend now, the majority of college football fans do not have the means to travel cross-country two weeks in a row to expensive sporting events where costs of attendance and travel are radically inflated. This presents the question of who will attend the second playoff game – the National Championship. The answer is similar to that of the Super Bowl: corporations and social elites.

The ticket sales for this year’s College Football Playoff National Championship have told a much different story than in previous years. The majority of purchases on Ticketmaster and StubHub have been from Texas, with over 25 percent, while only 15 percent of tickets have been purchased by consumers in Ohio and 5 percent by residents of Oregon. Last year over 75 percent of tickets to the last BCS National Championship Game from secondary ticket sources such as StubHub and Ticketmaster were purchased in the two states from which the competing teams hailed (Florida and Alabama). Another reason that this year’s national championship resembled the Super Bowl much more closely is the amount of corporate ticket allocations, with over 25 percent of tickets being given to corporate sponsors, as opposed to 10 to 13 percent in previous BCS National Championships. With further similarities to the Super Bowl, such as the number of people coming into the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the game and festivities and the amount of infrastructure required to allow such visitation and tourism, authorities should pay close attention to this statistic from the 2011 Dallas Super Bowl: In 2011 during Super Bowl week in Dallas, advertisements for underage sex and similar sexual solicitation online rose by 300 percent.

This is a troubling statistic that may turn out to be very similar in this year’s National Championship as the hordes of people arrived in Dallas for the College Football playoff National Championship Game’s festivities and entertainment. The border with Mexico gave human traffickers a much easier means of access to the United States for travel into Texas. Authorities have found the link between human sex trafficking and the drug trade, and with such a large presence in Central and South America in the drug trade by huge multi-national criminal organizations and gangs, the use of human trafficking as a moneymaker and promoter surely spilled over the border. Border control may have a huge role to play moving forward.

Authorities must make these same connections between our new College Football Playoff system and the already popular Super Bowl. They must make sure that the resources and capabilities are ready to deter human trafficking and sexual exploitation at new CFP events, as it may well turn out that this year’s CFP National Championship was the second-biggest weekend for human trafficking ever in the US. A solid performance by our authorities in this inaugural CFP may send a message to traffickers to stay clear of next month’s Super Bowl, as a smarter and more educated defense will not allow such heinous crimes to plague sporting events at the rates of the past anymore. The private sector is taking a stand against human trafficking during these events as well, with airlines and transportation employees being trained to spot the signs of human trafficking before the actual crimes can occur: girls and boys traveling alone, with injury, or being forced in any way can be signs of possible human trafficking, and implementing successful precautions have led to the rescue of victims made by educated employees who interact with travelers everyday.

With an increased national presence of NCAA athletics in this new age of the College Football Playoff, the NCAA must take steps to further inform and educate fans, students, and athletes alike on how to spot signs of human trafficking and sexual exploitation so all people involved can act as the eyes and the ears of those victims who so gravely need our help. Sporting events do not cause sexual exploitation and human trafficking, but without proper education and deterrence they foster prime environments to shield these international atrocities.

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by Clayton Sharb

(photo credit: media.zenfs.com)