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 #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
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.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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