Neither foreign powers nor terrorists are our greatest threat, according to William Astore's Huffington Post blog. The retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and history professor appears to have torched his bridges with the military and warns that the patriotic and military displays at professional sporting events are the big threat to democracy. Following the lead of ESPN writer Howard Bryant, who wrote a book on this topic, Astore admits he's not the first to warn about "the dangers of mixing sports with the military, especially in corporate-controlled blenders."
These attacks, Astore writes, go back to 2003 when Norman Mailer warned:
“The dire prospect that opens, therefore, is that America is going to become a mega-banana republic where the Army will have more and more importance in Americans’ lives... [D]emocracy is the special condition ― a condition we will be called upon to defend in the coming years. That will be enormously difficult because the combination of the corporation, the military, and the complete investiture of the flag with mass spectator sports has set up a pre-fascistic atmosphere in America already.”
Astore says now that "dire prospect" has been realized through the combination of corporations, the military and mass spectator sports, "all wrapped in a gigantic version of the stars and stripes ― has increasingly come to define what it means to be an American. Now that the country also has its own self-styled strongman president, enabled by a spineless Congress and an increasingly reactionary judiciary, Mailer’s mention of a 'pre-fascistic atmosphere' seems prescient."
Americans are forced to stomach pro athletes wearing camouflage uniforms and hats on “military appreciation” day, along with Air Force/Navy flyovers, parades and the barely tolerable reunions of service members returning from our country’s war zones and surprising their families. There is also a multitude of other "increasingly militarized ceremonies" that he detests.
Also respulsive to this over-sensitive progressive are playing fields covered by gigantic American flags unfurled by military personnel or civilian defense contractors and other Pentagon-paid ceremonies. "The melding of sports and the military should be seen as inappropriate, if not insidious," Astore says.
And here comes the rub:
"Meanwhile, taking a stand (or a knee), being an agent of dissent, protesting against injustice, is increasingly seen as the very definition of what it means to be unpatriotic. Indeed, players with the guts to protest American life as it is are regularly castigated as SOBs by our sports- and military-loving president."Professional sports owners certainly know that this militarized brand of patriotism sells, while the version embodied in the kinds of controversial stances taken by athletes like former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick (cashiered by his own league) angers and alienates many fans, ultimately threatening profits."
Astore rips the corporate sports-military partnerships as "some version of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s old military-industrial complex" that's "enlisted sports to make militarism look good and normal and even cool." Sports teams are "slavishly pro-military," athletes lacking the courage of the late Pat Tillman and are driven to support the military out of guilt. Corporate-owned sports teams "are now actively colluding with the military to redefine patriotism in ways that work to their mutual advantage. They are complicit in taking a select, jingoistic form of patriotism and weaponizing it to suppress dissent, including against the military-industrial complex and America’s never-ending wars." What is largely kept from us are "the murderous costs of empire: the dead and maimed soldiers, the innocents slaughtered by those same combat jets." Questioning this is bad, wrong and unpatriotic. When Astore sees the jet flyovers and large flags he sees 17 years of mismanaged wars and corporations profiting. The assault goes on:
"Sports should be about having fun; about joy, passion, and sharing; about the thrill of competition, the splendor of the human condition; and so much more. ... We’re doing a disservice to ourselves. We’re weakening the integrity of democracy in America. We can afford to lose a ballgame. We can’t afford to lose our country."
Astore is extremely begrudging of the surprise family reunion of Sgt. Cole Condiff and his wife and family. "Such staged reunions have become a regular aspect of major sporting events ― consider this 'heart-melting' example from a Milwaukee Brewers game ― and are obviously meant to tug at the heartstrings. These are propagandistic versions of 'cheap grace.'”