Dr. robert brown militaristic displays in professional sports

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Dr. robert brown militaristic displays in professional sports

  1. 1. Militaristic Displays in Professional Sports<br />By<br />Dr. Robert S. Brown<br />Associate Professor of Sport Management<br />Daniel Webster College<br />20 University Dr.<br />Nashua, NH 03063-1300<br />603-577-6643<br />rbrown2@dwc.edu<br />Presented To<br />International Sport for Development and Peace Association<br />Power of Sport Summit<br />June 10-12, 2010<br />Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” This paper asks if it is possible for sport to simultaneously promote peace and war.<br />All levels of sport, especially in the United States, are often used to celebrate the host nation. Such displays of nationalism, some would say patriotism, normally center around a national anthem and a salute to the national flag. These practices are standard before youth league, college, and professional sports as well as international events such as the Olympics. They are based upon feelings of pride in a nation, and especially during international competitions such as the Olympics, can bring the athletes and viewers around the world to tears. <br />In and of themselves, flag ceremonies might be considered nationalistic, not militaristic, and more harmless celebration than propaganda. Even when the flags are presented by military color guards, again a common practice, attention is on the flag/the nation, not on the military.<br />This paper examines variations of the traditional flag ceremony during American sports broadcasts, when the pregame show is expanded to include more events than the display of the colors. It is argued that sport ceremonies, especially during times of war, are used to not only stir patriotic feelings, but in some cases, outright promote the military and military action. Baseball during the Second World War featured military induction ceremonies as part of pre-game festivities, while baseball owners worked together to ban anti-war representatives such as Charles Lindbergh from ballparks. The Vietnam era saw the earliest documented instances of military jet flyovers, while the TV networks worked to keep environmental and peace messages at football games off the air. The paper culminates with an examination of the military displays during 2002 Super Bowl, which the author argues took pro-military messages to a new level in advocating for the use of military force after the 9/11 attacks which had taken place a few months earlier.<br />Measuring the Pro-War Propaganda<br />To what degree does a sporting event support, and even encourage, military aggression? As discussed in the introduction to this paper, there are clearly differences in how the military and military action are presented as part of sporting events, especially during pre-game ceremonies. These events might be best considered on a continuum starting from events with little to no military propaganda up through events with clear intentions of promoting war and military engagement.<br />On this continuum, it can be assumed that even the most blatant pro-war message will not be an outright call to arms. These are, after all, popular sporting events striving for major ratings points. They must then appeal to the largest audience possible, which might limit how far politically the spectacle can slide in any direction. The event’s creative management team must try to tap into popular sentiment in order to generate huge approval ratings without offending any one large segment of the viewing public. In this sense, any display of military messages might be considered more of a measure of what society will accept than any particular position show producers are trying to push.<br />The base line of the continuum might be the singing of the national anthem corresponding with the presentation of the flag. The presentation of the nation’s colors is often done by representatives of the nation’s military. This pre-game ceremony, a standard part of sporting events since at least World War II, is a patriotic gesture intended to recognize and celebrate the participating nation or nations. The emphasis is on the song and the flag of the country, and the people holding the flag, even if uniformed military personnel are of little consequence. The emotions stirred are based in pride and patriotism of country, though the ceremony has become such a part of the standard procedure of games that while fans stand there is rarely full fan participation in singing or even the removal of headwear. At face value, this ceremony can hardly be considered as pro-war propaganda.<br />But as more elements are added to the opening ceremony, the tenor of the event can change. If these additions involve a larger military presence, then the event measure might fall a bit higher up a continuum. The jet flyover is a great example of this. In 2007, the Air Force made 843 flyovers, not all of them over sporting events (The Numbers, 45). There are so many requests for jet flyovers that the Department of Defense has created an official form, DD Form 2535: Request for Military Aerial Support, to use in order to evaluate inquiries. Jets, either as a single fighter or a group of military craft in formation, usually time their arrivals to fly over a stadium just as the national anthem concludes. Today, jet flyovers have become accepted, unquestioned parts of sporting spectacles, but in 1971 the new pre-game addition raised the ire of at least one observer. Writing during the time of Vietnam protests, Newark Star Ledger columnist Jerry Izenberg suspected a major conspiracy at work between the Nixon administration and the NFL when a flight of Air Force planes buzzed over the stadium during the half-time show of the 1971 Super Bowl. Izenberg questioned this display of militarism and who could have approved the use of military aircraft for entertainment purposes during a time of war (187). Do these flyovers have any potential impact as military propaganda? Navy Lieutenant Dave Snowden, who piloted one of the F-18E Super Hornets that flew over the 2007 Army-Navy football game, said he was honored to be a part of the flyover as `it is a great tool for recruiting’” (Ruibal, 14C). <br />More military additions to pre-game ceremonies must lead to considering these events as falling a bit further along the military propaganda continuum. Consider Major League Baseball’s “Welcome Back Veterans” initiative, where during games played on three dates during the 2010 baseball season (Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Patriot Day/September 11), all teams will hold special events to raise awareness and money for veterans returning home from warzones. These events include the wearing of special stars and stripes caps and participation in national moments of silent reflection. Since first started in 2008, Baseball’s efforts have led to $8.3 million in grants to non-profit agencies charged with aiding returning soldiers. The effort tries to avoid political ramifications and instead focus on the soldiers. As New York Mets chairman Fred Wilpon stated “Whether you agree with this war or don’t – and frankly we are trying to keep this apolitical – you have to look at these fine men and women and say, `They’re the ones who are serving’” (Newman). Apolitical the effort might be, but clearly all of these efforts are celebratory and supportive of military efforts and can be powerful messages on the field.<br />During the Second World War, the messages of giving while at the ballpark were even stronger. Instead of focusing on the soldier, the messages often emphasized supporting the military effort. Baseball became the center of many types of war drives. Ballparks became collection centers for scrap metal and other recyclable materials. Many clubs had promotions where free seats were given in exchange for every pint of blood donated or anyone bringing in ten pounds or more of scrap metal (Goldstein, 87). At one game, eight players who had earlier given blood were saluted at home plate, obviously undamaged and able to play the game. Red Cross volunteers in full uniform then went through the stands, signing up hundreds of donors (Goldstein, 87). Through methods such as these, baseball fans, out to enjoy a game, were actually drawn in as accomplices to fighting the war overseas.<br />Not only were supplies raised at ballparks, but fans were used to raise funds that went directly to the war effort. Ballplayers would allow themselves to be sponsored by citizens and organizations or would travel to different groups to urge people to donate portions of their salaries to purchase war bonds. Such efforts led to donations in excess of 100 million dollars for war bonds, moneys that went directly to funding the war industry (Goldstein, 74-78). <br />Lastly, baseball actually drew men into the war by encouraging potential volunteers to join the service. This lesson had been taken from World War One baseball activities. Seymour writes that as the United States entered the First World War, " Memories of the Civil War draft riots had been revived in the minds of some government officials, so they welcomed the opportunity offered by the ball clubs to have contingents of troops parade in the parks before games in order stimulate martial spirit and make conscription more palatable to the public" (246). These same kinds of ceremonies were duplicated during the Second World War.<br />During some events held in the ballparks " the military presence on occasion was a massive one - tanks rolling over outfield terrain, perhaps white-clad sailors forming a giant `V for Victory' with its apex at home plate" (Goldstein, xii). At other times, baseball went a step further and allowed their parks to become centers for recruiting. Sometimes, " mass enlistments were staged on ballfields before war charity games. One day in June '42, two hundred men were sworn into the Army, Navy, and Marines at Braves Field" (Goldstein, 74). These events not only made conscription more acceptable, but also glamorized it, turning those who would sign up into heroes deserving mass applause in front of arenas full of fans. Viewers undoubtedly would feel the desire to support, if not participate themselves, in the war effort as warriors became celebrities, symbols of American greatness displayed on the fields of America's pastime.<br />Because of the scrap drives, blood drives, recruiting and fundraising efforts, the baseball diamond became a place not of escape, as is commonly believed, but as a place of indoctrination into the war effort. Enthusiasts attending games were treated not only to entertainment, but to a myriad of symbols which invoked a patriotic response to support military activity. The results can not only be measured in the amount of materials raised, but also in the attitudes of the people. Fans were expected to throw any foul ball back onto the field, so it could be shipped overseas for the soldiers to use. " If any fan took more than a short, wistful look at his catch, boos from others, including uniformed servicemen who were admitted free to all parks during the war, quickly evoked the desired patriotic response" (Voigt, 256-57).<br />Events such as these, taking place as part of pregame ceremonies around the country during World War II, can easily be placed far up on the continuum as obvious pro-war military propaganda. The ballparks were being used to connect fans to the war effort overseas through military displays, donations to the war efforts, and even induction ceremonies directly into military service. It was a different era of American history, and one without television, but that should not allow these types of ceremonies to be dismissed. Instead, they should stand as examples of how far sports can go as cultural sites for pro-war messages.<br />Perhaps the best recent example for how sporting pre-game ceremonies can be sued to support military efforts took place at the 2002 Super Bowl, featuring the New England Patriots against the St. Louis Rams. The game is often remembered for the emergence of Tom Brady as a star quarterback as he led the Patriots’ upset of the highly favored Rams. Some may remember this game as the first Super Bowl after the 9/11 bombings and U2’s halftime show featuring a performance of “Where the Streets have No Name” while the names of all those lost in the terrorist attacks scrolled down a big screen behind the band. Usually overlooked was a short video presented as part of the pregame ceremonies accompanying the Boston Pops on field performance of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait.<br /> In introducing this piece, a combination of Lincoln’s words with Copeland’s music, James Brown said Copeland had written it in 1942 to remind Americans “still reeling from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor of their country’s history and to inspire us to continually defend liberty and equality.” Note the way Brown moved from the post-Pearl Harbor country to the modern post-Trade Center USA in the same sentence. The Pops then began the music, while former Presidents Ford, Carter, Bush, and Clinton, as well as Nancy Reagan substituting for her ailing husband, read Lincoln’s word via video tape with a background montage of patriotic images and scenes from the World Trade Center site. The video is beautifully done, blending together clips of playing children, the Statue of Liberty, wild horses, and farmers in the fields contrasted with the explosions at the World Trade center and Pentagon, people running from the dust cloud raised by the collapsing tower, and a long look at the empty hole left behind in New York. Amidst applause and chants of “U-S-A,” the crowd volume level obviously raised and lowered by the audio people in the production truck to draw attention to the chant as the song/video ended, the ceremonies slid seamlessly into a performance of “America the Beautiful” sung by pop stars Mary J. Blige and Marc Anthony.<br />The structure of the video, seen by all of those in the stadium and over 100 million viewers on television, mixed images contrasting destruction, military sacrifice, and American values to stir feelings of anger and pride within viewers and actually make the arguments for justifying war. Contrasting typical American symbolic images (children playing, farmers, wild horses, etc) with those of past and current attacks on American soil (Pearl Harbor and the Trade Center images) taps into fear and anger. Video clips of soldiers and military memorials such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, The Arizona Memorial and the Vietnam Wall in Washington remind viewers of the efforts of soldiers to protect American soil. By the end of the video it should be no surprise the fans were chanting “U-S-A.” <br />Unheard Voices of Peace<br />A scale can be used to measure the level of militancy present as part of pregame ceremonies at sporting events. What cannot be measured are those voices that get left out. As mentioned to start this paper, sports depend on attracting huge audiences. Rather than propaganda, ballpark events were set up to avoid criticism. To this end, ceremonies are created with the majority of the population in mind, and anything the organizers might consider to be too political or outside of the mainstream will be left out. During times of war, this might mean that patriotic, almost pro-war messages are served while anti-military voices are left out. There are actually multiple examples of this.<br />During the Second World War, a rally at Ebbets field, supported by the America First Committee, in which arch-isolationist and American hero Charles Lindbergh was scheduled to speak, was canceled by the Dodgers' owner " on the grounds that the park could not be used as a forum for `propaganda' (Goldstein, 14). Of course, by defining oppositional rhetoric as propaganda while supporting the war effort, baseball managed to shut out anti-war sentiments and thus further aided the war effort and, despite its denial, became a propagandist itself.<br />During the 1960s and 70s, part of almost every college football broadcast included the school bands performing during the halftime show. Izenberg observed during the 1970 season that most bands stuck to very patriotic themes during the height of the Vietnam War. As discussed earlier in this paper, the pro-war stance could not risk offending viewers by being overtly political, but the messages were clear. “It was, of course, impossible for anyone to come out at half-time and chant `Burn the gooks,’” observed Izenberg, “but, playing on the emotionalism of a divided country, inferring that all the `good people’ were there on their feet singing their allegiance and chanting `We’re number one,’ there was a far more subtle way to get it done” (185-86). However, when a school band took a different tact, as did the University of Buffalo who choose to focus on environmental issues and an anti-war message, ABC sports programming director Roone Arledge decided not to air the show because it was “too political” (Izenberg, 186).<br />Conclusions<br />Without question, sports and patriotism go together just like “mom, apple pie, and baseball.” Games are easily associated as America’s pastimes and capitalize on their cultural standing to promote themselves. Certainly celebrating the host country or home country of the athlete through a flag ceremony and the playing of their national anthem is a moment filled with honor and pride.<br />However, when these ceremonies are examined over time, it is apparent that many of them move beyond simple patriotism. As this paper has demonstrated, in many cases pregame events are filled with military symbolism. It has been argued that these symbols can be placed on a continuum from the mildest of military displays to outright pro-war propaganda as a way of measuring the potential impact of the messages. This is especially important to consider when it comes to broadcast sports, where these messages might be viewed by tens of millions of viewers. Add to this the notion that anti-war messages might be filtered out as too political, and the militaristic messages of sport are granted a very visible and unchallenged platform.<br />References<br />Goldstein, R. (1990). Spartan seasons: How baseball survived the Second World War. New <br />York: Macmillan.<br />Izenberg, J. (1972). How many miles to Camelot? The All-American sport myth. New York: Holt,<br />Rinehart and Winston.<br />“The Numbers” (2008, July). Spirit Magazine, p.45.<br />Ruibal, S. (2007, November 30). “Army-Navy event is flight of fancy.” USA Today, p.14C.<br />Schmidt, M. S. (2007, May 10). “At the stadium, stay put when the music plays.” New York<br />Times, p.10.<br />Seymour, H. (1989). Baseball in the golden age. New York: Oxford University Press.<br />Voigt, D. Q. (1970). American baseball: Volume II From the commissioners to continental <br />expansion. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.<br />

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