By Ken Reed
When President George W. Bush took the mound at Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch following the horrific 9/11 attacks, sports helped bring us together as a country. As Howard Bryant recently wrote, sports were a “healing balm” for a hurting nation.
But since that point, pro sports owners and big-time college sports administrators have seized on the feel-good aspect of patriotism and used it as just another marketing ploy.
As but one example, consider the NFL’s phony soldier salute. From 2011 to 2014, the Department of Defense paid 14 NFL teams $5.4 million for promotional salutes to military personnel. Consider the New York Jets’ Hometown Heroes promotion. During timeouts, the Jumbotron camera would zoom in on a U.S. soldier who was strategically placed in a given seat. The soldier smiled and waved to the crowd. Fans stood and cheered, bursting with patriotic feelings and happy that their favorite football team was honoring true American heroes. In reality, the whole thing was a marketing and P.R. scam, just another revenue stream for NFL owners, not a feel-good gesture at all. Sad.
Patriotic commercials and additional phony patriotic acts have also been embedded in our games. Today, pro sports and big-time college sports execs utilize field-length American flags, camouflage uniforms and flag stickers/patches stuck everywhere the eye cans see as P.R. tactics, not as true patriotic acts. What started out as spontaneous expressions of patriotism and unity back at Yankee Stadium with President Bush and that first pitch following 9/11 has devolved into commercialization gone bad.
“It all felt right, until temporary grieving turned into a permanent, commercial bonanza — and a chilling referendum on who gets to be an American,” wrote Bryant.
The message in this era of forced hegemonic patriotism is don’t dare step out of line and exercise your basic rights of free speech and to peacefully protest. To me, Americans who exercise those rights in order to improve the country (whether I agree with their improvement ideas or not) are a lot more patriotic than those who stand at attention during the national anthem at sporting events but do nothing else as citizens to improve the country and help it live up to its ideals. As Americans, we have the right — and responsibility — to contribute to the marketplace of ideas in this democracy.
As Bryant points out, some military veterans feel the same way.
“I’ve heard from veterans who say they are horrified that a profit machine presents an orgy of mismatching military symbols at the stadium … ,” wrote Bryant.
“The veterans said that they are grateful that it looks like Americans care about them. But they are also resentful of being used as shields to prevent any criticism of the country or the military. The soldiers know they serve so Americans can speak their minds, not be cowed into obedience.”
Exactly. Patriotic acts of any kind are meaningless if they are mandated. Forcing people to stand up during the playing of the national anthem so a certain percentage of the audience can feel good is fear-based and something that should be associated with third-world dictatorships, not the United States of America.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan in the year 2022.
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Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Episode #20 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Coaching Youth and High School Sports Based On What’s Best for the Athlete’s Holistic Development – We chat with long-time youth, high school and college basketball coach Jim Huber.
Episode #19 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Capturing the Spirit of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League with Anika Orrock – We discuss the hoops AAGPFL women had to jump through to play the game they loved as well as the long-term impact and legacy they have in advancing sports opportunities for girls and women.
Episode #18 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking about the 50th Anniversary of Title IX and the Lia Thomas Controversy with Nancy Hogshead-Makar – Hogshead-Makar is a triple gold medalist in swimming, a civil rights attorney and CEO of Champion Women.
Episode #17 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports With Legendary New York Times Sports Columnist Robert Lipsyte – We chat about Lipsyte’s amazing career and some of the athletes he covered.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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