The sickness in American culture today that praises violence has seeped into college athletics in a manner that leaves me cold. I am appalled when college football or baseball teams “honor” the military by incorporating camouflage motifs into their uniforms. College sports are college sports and the military is the military. Yes, in both college sports and the military young people of the same age group are the primary participants, but sports at one time were merely entertaining pastimes and the military ultimately comes down to being about killing and maiming. Directing the team spirit of college sports toward military praise always comes off to me as an attempt to move praise of the military to a level of unquestioning support that can only have bad consequences.
We have been reminded recently that unquestioning support of college sports also leads to bad consequences. The debacle at Penn State was enabled in large part by the elevation of the Penn State football coaching staff to a level where they were treated as completely above the law, even when it came to sexual abuse of young boys. Unquestioning support of the military (George W. Bush: “You’re either with us or against us”) likewise has enabled it to move above the law. The Great War on Terror under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney relied heavily on the illegal practices of rendition and torture. Barack Obama, as suggested by Tom Junod, seems to have moved another large step beyond the law into extrajudicial killing:
But what if the the kind of militant who was captured and tortured under Bush is the kind of militant who is simply being killed under President Obama?
Listen to the announcer’s words near the beginning of this YouTube of the national anthem being played at a game at this year’s NCAA College World Series in Omaha. Why is it necessary to say “And now ladies and gentlemen, please join us in honoring America and those who support our freedom at home and abroad” at a college baseball game? Isn’t honoring the country enough? Why do we need more of a military reference beyond the military color guard? This was not a one-off event. Virtually the same script was used at every regional and super-regional game I attended here in Gainesville where teams were vying for the right to go to Omaha, so it clearly is part of the script put into place by the NCAA. Normal home games for the Gators during the regular season did not employ the language.
But now the conflation of the military and college sports has moved to a level where the symbolism is just too warped for me to allow it to go unchallenged. Last year, I was content merely to spout lots of snark on Twitter about conflating college sports and the military while the 2011 Carrier Classic was played on the USS Carl Vinson. This year, however, my Florida Gators will be playing in the game and it will be held on the USS Bataan. I have written previously on the Bataan. It has a particularly upsetting history, as I quoted Clive Stafford-Smith and the Reprieve project: Read more