By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) It began Thursday night, prior to the matchup between the Saints and Packers, when Kid Rock let us know his parents were Elton John and Uncle Sam and continued to not only ruin music but also force feed viewers another big ol’ slice of jingoistic pie. It was pageantry of the absurd, and it will unfortunately continue Sunday with the majority of Week 1 NFL games scheduled.
Sunday, if you haven’t exposed yourself to any media lately until just now, is September 11 and the tenth anniversary of the worst attack on American soil. In 2001 it was a dark day for this country, a day Americans who were cognizant at the time will never forget, though most certainly do try, whether they’ll admit it or not, through the opiates of reality television, consuming goods and services, and of course sports. And that’s okay, that’s natural.
For anyone who didn’t lose someone close on September 11, 2001, it would be unhealthy and morbid to keep those events on the front burner of the mind. Human beings suppress traumatic experiences and other unpleasantries by engaging in activities to get the mind away from pain. Professional sports have long been fantastic for that, and for me they hopefully always will be. The problem is that some people don’t want to give me that luxury.
Since the 9/11 attacks, sporting events have become echo chambers of forced patriotism. Color guards, fighter jets, interrupting games for God Bless America (because one patriotic song isn’t enough, I guess), red, white, and blue patches, ribbons, and thongs, you name it. Shelling out money for a ticket or even just turning on the TV has taken the fan to a kitschy gift shop in Arlington, VA. Perhaps nowhere are the bumper stickers and commemorative China plates hocked more than in the NFL, and Sunday the vendors will be on crack.
It’s odd, really, that people would eat such sugar-coated pomp up while taking in a football game. The appeal and sadistic beauty of football is its perfect savagery. “Gladiator” is a term thrown around to describe its players, yet such a word is closer in reality than people think. Players participate in coordinated violence to the cheers and jeers of a blood-thirsty crowd, one who is largely apathetic to the actual well-being of the participants. Maybe a Roman anthem would be more apropos prior to the game then, eh?
So where does the solemnity of honoring the military or Americans lost factor into that? Why should joy and excitement for a game be buzz-killed with a demand for picking emotional scabs. Would you tell your son prior to a game of catch in the yard that you two need to pause and reflect on the death of a relative? Does a picture of your late grandmother sit on the poker table during the weekly game with your buddies?
It’s around this point in the reading that many will think me treasonous at worst and maybe just a bad guy at best for daring to suggest that anything involving the troops is not perfect or even unnecessary. And because of that I guess I must include the requisite acknowledgement that I love being an American and appreciate the sacrifices our men and women of the military—and police departments and fire departments as well—make every day. I consider myself quite fortunate to have the luxuries I do, and for those home and abroad who contributed to that, I thank you.
I thank my grandfather, Michael Baffoe, who battled the Japanese in the South Pacific, his brothers and brothers-in-law who fought in Europe and Guadalcanal and other parts of Asia, those who returned home and those who did not, and my cousin, Connor Murray, who proudly serves in the United States Air Force. I thank my friends and my former students who have served and are serving. And the same goes for my friends who are cops and firefighters, who would certainly show the same bravery their New York brethren did ten years ago should such another unfortunate incident occur here, God forbid. For not a single one of them do I wish their work belittled by a circus before a sporting event.
I don’t need gravitas in my entertainment outlets. I particularly don’t need it from an organization that is otherwise apathetic to war and our military. That is, unless such things help feather its own nest.
See, something most don’t notice or just refuse to accept is that the NFL doesn’t care about September 11 any more than it will make the NFL money. Viewership for Sunday’s pregame events will be higher because there are many out there that want their heartstrings tugged before they demand that a large man wearing their favorite uniform hit a large man in another uniform with as much force as possible. The television hosts will don flag pins and speak in weighted tones on camera while yelling at an intern off camera for not getting the right cup of gourmet coffee. Features will be shown on an NFLer whose cousin is a New York firefighter, and we will be asked to eat the pathos along with our seven layer dip, and many will gorge on both.
Maybe Pat Tillman gets mentioned, but nothing too in depth because what was once a great story—for the military, for America, for the pockets of guys in suits—has been sullied by the truth of what happened to him and that his family doesn’t like “These Colors Don’t Run” t-shirts and neither would Tillman. That damn, dirty truth.
It’s all about PR and revenue, my patriotic peers. The league graciously announced it would not fine players for breaking uniform code in order to sport red, white, and blue gloves and cleats and growth hormone. That would look bad to the masses who think advertising the USA makes someone a better person. A better person like Lance Briggs, who said prior to the league announcement that he didn’t care how much he got fined, he was going to wear what he wanted on Sunday. How noble, especially for a guy looking to get back on the good side of fans after complaining that he isn’t being paid enough by his team. That’s what the kid from the town of 2,000 fighting halfway around the world signed up to defend surely.
The NFL and the NFLPA announced a few weeks ago that they were donating $1 million to 9/11 charities. That only leaves about $8,999,000,000 in revenue. Amazing that Roger Goodell will even be able to fill up his gas tank Sunday. From now on I will announce whenever I give a dollar to a homeless person who I won’t think twice about afterward and pat myself on the back. Especially when that homeless person is likely a veteran.
War is hell. Life is unpleasant. Sports are perfect and just. Tainting that perfection by mixing in real life and much of its injustice is superfluous, if not insulting. It also belittles the work and sacrifices of brave men and women when sports pretend to have genuine concern and compassion for them by showing them on camera, getting them a few seconds of applause by a largely indifferent crowd, and then giving them carte blanche at the concession stand before returning them back to the harshness of their service and their acquired demons.
If the NFL really had as much respect for our military or those who perished on 9/11 as they would have you believe, then the league would do what it did ten years ago—have no games take place. But that certainly won’t happen. There’s money to gain from this and entertainment and emotion to manufacture.
If you are a fan of The Simpsons like I am, you probably remember the great episode where Homer becomes a professional boxer. Just before his big fight, Michael Buffer announces to the crowd, “Due to popular demand, we will forgo our national anthem.” A joke, of course, but within every chunk of satire hides a nugget of truth. In sports, people truly want sports and beer and cheerleaders. Nothing more, nothing less. Even the fans who applaud the pro-America stuff would not turn off the game or not buy a ticket if that stuff was suddenly absent.
I gravitate to sports to get away from the grind of real life, of rampant violence and my mortgage and political strife. Sports are my favorite opiate. And I’ll combine that opiate Sunday with a few others—an adult beverage or two and some very unhealthy food—the real American Dream. I don’t want that corrupted by an American Nightmare.
Apple pie doesn’t go too well with football. Can I just have my football and eat it, too?