Asst. Sports Director
Super Bowl weekend is a national celebration filled with fun, food, debate and friends to show appreciation for the most important sports game of the year. Each year, the city hosting the Super Bowl gardners tens of thousands of tourists coming to partake in the celebratory festivities. One problem with the large crowds of people, however, is the potential for sex traffickers to strike.
This year’s hosting city, Tampa Bay, Florida, saw a sting operation conducted by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Hillsborough County is only a 30 minute drive from Raymond James Stadium, this year’s Superbowl venue, making it a hotspot for tourists and visitors alike to stay. The operation was deemed “Operation Game Over” and targeted places within the country known for illegal activity. Some of the places included massage parlors, online chat rooms and hotels. With the county being more visited than usual, these places were bound to see an increase in business.
Undercover officers, posing as a 17-year-old girl in an online chat room, struck a deal with sex trafficking suspect Juan Carlo Jr. which would see an exchange of $150 for sexual sevices. On February 4, Juan went to go to the designated meeting spot at a local hotel where he was greeted by detectives and then arrested. The following day, February 5, investigators would then also arrest two male suspects, Alvin lynch Jr, 34, and Scott Fitzgerald, 27, when the two men were spotted with a woman who placed ads online for sexual services. This woman revealed two other females nearby who were being tracked down by these men as part of a sex trafficking operation. The two females in question were tracked down and unscaved, one of them being a 17-year-old girl.
In total, 75 arrests were made within the county during Super Bowl weekend uncovering the major sex trafficking operation’s plan tto target as many women as possible. 32 suspects were arrested at hotels/motels, 27 were arrested alongside the roads, eight women were tracked down and arrested at massage parlors, and eight men were discovered through online chat rooms and then arrested at supposed “meetups.'' Ages from the suspects arrested ranged from 19 to 73 years old.
This record setting operation uncovered the dark side of the biggest game of the year. The fact that this occurred during a pandemic and a record low Super Bowl attendance meant the number of tourists were much lower compared to a normal year. Stings like this are not annual in the hosting city with factors of finances and resources playing a role. Another reason they aren’t held each year is because police departments don’t believe there is a link between sex trafficking and the large numbers of people visiting for the game. Back in 2009, when Tampa Bay last hosted the Super Bowl, police spokesperson Andrea David told local news outlets that they “didn’t see a huge influx in prostitutes coming into Tampa. The arrests were not a lot higher. They were almost the same.” 12 years later and the same city uncovered a large sex trafficking operation revealing the dark attraction the game posesses.
According to statistics provided by the website 2date4love, a leader in sex trafficking discussions, as of 2021 there are 4.8 million victims of sex trafficking worldwide. 30% of the victims within sex trafficking are children. Annually, there is an increase within sex trafficking numbers globally. It is a $20 billion dollar industry made up of violating human’s basic rights to be a person. The NFL is a $30 billion dollar sports league who could be doing more to expose such flaws and heinous crimes with their platform. This year’s Super Bowl should be a wake up call for the United States and its major cities for what might occur if they host the game. The lack of acknowledgment and initiative in the past, and within the future, is going to be a key role of why sex trafficking will be even more powerful unless the NFL does something about it.