April 3, 2020

Pentagon Patriotism & Sports Without War

[Draft Post, November 20, 2016]

In November 2015, it was reported that over the past three years, the Pentagon had signed 72 contracts with professional sports teams, obligating those teams - including the Boston Red Sox - to hold "paid patriotism" events such as flag ceremonies, first pitches, half-time demonstrations, and reunions between soldiers and their families.

The Pentagon used taxpayer dollars to pay for every one of these phony displays, which were nothing more than marketing ploys to boost military recruitment.

Tackling Paid Patriotism (pdf) is a joint oversight report from Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake.

That figure of nearly $7 million highlighted on the report's cover represented only what the report's investigators could find. The actual amount spent is much higher. Esquire noted it "excludes the $53 million the DOD spent with sports teams over that same period on what are considered legitimate marketing and advertising contracts meant to dupe young kids into enlisting".

The introduction to the report stated: "By paying for such heartwarming displays like recognition of wounded warriors, surprise homecomings, and on-field enlistment ceremonies, these displays lost their luster. Unsuspecting audience members became the subjects of paid-marketing campaigns ..."

The Pentagon paid the Milwaukee Brewers $49,000 to allow the Wisconsin Army National Guard to sing "God Bless America".

During my most recent visit to Fenway Park, back in April 2014, I noticed that the television screens around the park (we were sitting in the grandstand on the third-base side) showed military recruitment ads during the entire game. My partner Laura Kaminker wrote:
[B]etween innings, the Fenway Park monitors show a continuous feed of advertising for the United States Army. During the game, the ads continue on a sidebar beside the action.

Let that sink in a moment. The constant advertising crammed into every moment of the ballgame, and the constant linking of sports and the military, are now joined in this doubly offensive development.

There is something particularly Orwellian about watching a baseball game while a constant stream of silent images of war and military run in your peripheral vision.
Reaction to the Pentagon's activity was uniformly negative.

Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing:
It's a particularly insidious practice. On the one hand, you have these corrupt, scandal-haunted sports leagues collecting millions of tax dollars for phony displays of seemingly spontaneous patriotism. On the other hand, you have America's increasingly precarious and debt-haunted children being lured into military service in part by these displays, which suggest that America's institutions are far more interested in their willingness to die and kill than is actually the case.
Des Moines Register Editorial Board:
[O]ne would be hard pressed to find a more deeply cynical, ignoble strategy than this.
[W]hat's more American than sending poor kids to war so that a marketing flack can toast a cold one in the VIP section at a Seattle Sounders game on the public's dime?
Keith Olbermann, May 11, 2015: "Pre-Paid Patriotism"

[Draft Post, October 31, 2015]

Dave Zirin, The Nation:
When former NFL-player-turned-Army-Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan by US troops, the Department of Defense deceived his family about how he died. It has still not offered full disclosure about what took place on that tragic day when Tillman was felled by "friendly fire." Now Adidas, in conjunction with the Pat Tillman Foundation and Pat's alma mater, Arizona State University, is producing camouflage shirts and sneakers in honor of the late Mr. Tillman. They are all part of Arizona State's "Salute to Service" unis to be worn this Thursday night [October 29], yet their appearance and design raise serious concerns for those still inspired by the person Pat Tillman was, and troubled by the manner of his death.

The sneakers are called "Dark Ops" and are made partially of Kevlar, a material most closely associated with bulletproof vests. A glowing article about the sneakers made this unfortunate on-the-nose description: "All throughout the cleats, you’ll find helpings of Kevlar that help to make this year's lineup of cleats some of the most battle-ready yet." It then quotes the "senior sneaker designer" Thomas Hartings, who said, "Kevlar really brings it home for me, and ties to the soldiers and the real sacrifice that goes on in the military. Bringing that story into footwear is a pretty big deal."

As ESPN writer Kevin Gemmell enthused, "Awesome doesn't even begin to do them justice."

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Pat Tillman's life and the manner of his death can think of some words other than "awesome."

As for the shirts, they are jungle camouflage with a Pat Tillman quote on the back. The quote reads: "Passion is what makes life interesting, what ignites our soul, fuels our love and carries our friendships, stimulates our intellect, and pushes our limits."

They did not choose the words that Pat Tillman said when he was sent on multiple Ranger missions in Iraq: "This war is so fucking illegal." ...

[Draft Post, October 22, 2013]

The Red Sox are no strangers to mixing baseball with militarism. I have written in the past about the Run To Home Base foundation.
"Thoughts Prompted By The Red Sox Foundation's Association With "Run To Home Base""

"The National Anthem And The Idea Of Respect"

For Game 1 of the World Series, the 5-year-old son of an Air Force Captain currently deployed in Afghanistan will yell "Play Ball!" before the first pitch. A retired Marine Corps sergeant will sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.

I support Sports Without War, which describes itself as "a collection of sports fans, athletes, concerned citizens, and activists organized against Canada's role in imperial interventions, occupations and military actions around the world, most notably, in Afghanistan".
[W]e are opposed to the increased use of professional sports as an avenue to promote an imperialistic, pro-military politics. SWW aims to challenge pro-military messaging at sporting events and in sports media through targeted information campaigns, speaking events, and public demonstrations.

Professional sports and the sporting media is a pervasive part of our lives. As sports fans, we enjoy participating in the excitement and drama of seeing the world's greatest athletes compete at the highest level. Nevertheless, we increasingly find our enjoyment of the games interrupted by blatant military propaganda, from the presence of recruiters at arenas and stadiums, to military-themed team uniforms, to the spectacle of troops rappelling from the rafters, to solemn services honouring their sacrifices.

These services ignore the many people - often civilians - who have been killed in the course of Canada's war in Afghanistan. In so doing, they explicitly support the Canadian occupation, which has not been driven by humanitarian or security interests but, rather, by a collusion of corporate interests that prioritize profits over human lives. In the meantime, the Canadian government is spending billions of dollars on the war machine, while ordinary Canadians are struggling in the climate of austerity, job cuts, and wage freezes. ...

[M]ilitary propaganda in sports is part of a broader project to build support for a new Canadian militarism, in a country where some 80% of the population opposes its most visible military occupation, in Afghanistan.

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