The Sober Super Bowl? Players, Entertainers and Brands Go Dry and Tackle Addiction

The first-ever nonalcoholic beer ad during the big game debuts, while NFL players and performers raise addiction awareness. Here's what to watch for

February 8, 2023
Sober Super Bowl 2023

Nachos? Check. Wings? Check. Jerseys? Check. All your buddies gathered on the sofas, the Jalen Hurts bandwagon fans side by side with the “only watching for the commercials” folks? Check and check! Forgetting anything? Nope? Then you’re ready to kick off a sober Super Bowl this Sunday. And this year, sobriety will be covering the field and the airwaves as well.

More and more people are choosing to live sober, and that’s having an undeniable effect on America’s biggest televised event. You may not have clocked it last year, but most of the 2022 halftime show headliners were openly sober or in recovery: Mary J. Blige, Eminem, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar.

At Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12, 2023, some of the sobriety may be subtle, some will be loud and proud, and, of course, there are always surprises on any given Sunday. Here’s what we know so far about the Philadelphia Eagles matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, and sobriety in the NFL.

The Players

Even elite athletes suffer from addiction — just like anyone else — and there are a number of high-profile NFL players in recovery. Hall of Fame QBs Brett Favre and Joe Namath have both been publicly sober for many years. Former Detroit Lions tight end Derek Price is the CEO of an addiction treatment center.

Active players have achieved new professional and personal heights in sobriety, and some have gone for extra yards in sharing their stories and extending support to others struggling with addiction.

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby entered treatment for alcohol addiction in 2020 and made the Pro Bowl team in both the 2021 and 2022 seasons. “I just have to keep doing the work,” Crosby said in a recent interview with ESPN. “I have moments where I’m irritable, discontent, things like that, but that’s really all it is for me. Just staying on the right path and taking it one day at a time.”

Buffalo Bills safety Jordan Poyer also made the Pro Bowl in 2022 after he began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in 2020. He wrote about feeling nervous when first disclosing his sobriety to his teammates. “I really thought they might bust out laughing, thinking I was messing with them,” he said. “But that wasn’t their reaction at all. Everybody just took it all in and immediately showed me 100% love and respect, no questions asked.”

Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller survived an opioid overdose in 2017, entering treatment shortly after. In 2020, he started the Darren Waller Foundation to support young people grappling with addiction. Now an impassioned advocate for recovery, Waller is a frequent speaker and avid fundraiser; his organization provides grants for young people with financial difficulties to attend treatment programs. Waller also cohosts a weekly inspirational podcast, “Comeback Stories,” about recovery, wellness and mental health.

Among players on the Eagles and Chiefs squads who will be at State Farm Stadium on Sunday, at least one has lent his voice to addiction advocacy in recent years: eight-time Pro Bowler and Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. Kelce partnered with Cigna a few years ago to raise awareness about prescription opioid misuse, citing his own experiences with pain medications in interviews.

“During my first surgery, I had no idea that these pain medications were something that I was going to want, that my body was going to want, and that I was going to feel uncomfortable if I didn’t have these,” Kelce said.

The Commercials

The splashiest sobriety reveal for the Super Bowl so far this year goes to the commercials. For the first time ever, an adult nonalcoholic beverage will take over TV screens for 30 seconds: Heineken has chosen to showcase its 0.0 brand of nonalcoholic beer this year in an ad featuring Paul Rudd as Ant-Man.

An early teaser for the ad proclaims, “Now you can, before saving the day.” (Another tagline is “Shrink responsibly,” which makes us think that although Ant-Man is not a canonically sober superhero, he might indeed be enjoying the journey.)

We’ll have to wait and see if any other non-alc brands show up during the breaks in gameplay, but the Super Bowl is not the only sporting event to include nonalcoholic drinks ads or sponsorship deals.

Formula One auto racing, a sensible match for non-alc products, is in the lead so far. Heineken has used F1 sponsorships to turbocharge its 0.0 brand for several years, and now Peroni and Spanish beer Estrella Galicia have joined the race. Peroni’s new Nastro Azzurro 0.0% brand is a sponsor of the Aston Martin team, while Estrella Galicia 0,0 appears on Team Ferrari’s red cars.

The Entertainment

The 2023 halftime show is in Rihanna’s hands, and we don’t know yet which top-talent friends she’ll invite to perform alongside her. Rihanna also keeps her private life private.

Who else? Well, Shaquille O’Neal hosts an annual SB weekend bash, called Shaq’s Fun House, which has become a star-studded affair with A-list musicians on stage and Shaq himself in the DJ booth. That’s on Feb. 10, and it will also stream live.

If Shaq is filling cups, it’ll be with a nonalcoholic drink of choice: He has said he rarely consumes alcohol, and for many years, he was the face of campaigns against dangerous alcohol use and driving under the influence. Shaq has also opened up recently about his struggles with pain medication during his NBA playing years, in interviews and his 2022 docuseries “Shaq.”

“Sometimes I’d take [pain medication], and I’d be bleeding when I (used the bathroom),” Shaq told The Athletic last year. “There would be blood, but when you’re a warrior and you’re trying to win — win for yourself, win for your family and win for everybody — nothing matters and nobody cares. That was my mentality.”

But things are clearly changing in today’s sports world. On Sunday, 96 players — and Rihanna — will suit up for the biggest game on the biggest stage in American sports in front of 63,000 fans and 100 million viewers. If they can do Super Bowl Sunday sober, we’ll be proud to do it too.

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