Have American Sports Become Too Patriotic?

ESPN Senior Writer Howard Bryant writes that sporting events in post-9/11 America have become “uncomfortably nationalistic,” pinpointing former President George W. Bush’s first pitch at Game 3 of the 2001 World Series (just weeks after 9/11) as the moment when the trend began.

A dynamic that was supposed to be temporary has become permanent. The atmospheres of the games are no longer politically neutral but decidedly, often uncomfortably, nationalistic. The military flyovers, the pre-game inclusion of the armed forces, and the addition of “God Bless America” to “The Star-Spangled Banner” are no longer spontaneous or reactions to a specific event, but fixtures.

Ostensibly, the injection of patriotism into game day was out to show respect for a country fighting two wars, but the Iraq war is over. The U.S., which once deployed nearly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, is down to under 60,000. Osama bin Laden is dead, but the sports-military-patriotism alliance, is very much alive and embraced as normal.

A friend and I were talking about this over lunch the other day, and I think Bryant has a point. He’s a bit overwrought in making it – military color guards, veterans and fly-overs were staples of sporting events well before 9/11 – but there’s something to be said for things being a little overdone.

I’m a Yankees fan, and I think this phenomena has been particularly acute at games in the Bronx. I remember George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at Game 3 of the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium, and while that was a wonderful moment to this day the 7th inning stretch has been lengthened so that, as YES broadcaster Michael Kay puts it, the Yankees can “honor America.”

I have nothing against honoring America. I don’t share the distaste others seem to have for patriotism. But there is a point at which “honoring America” during every single 7th inning at every single one of 80+ home games a year because too much.

I worry less about sports becoming overly-nationalistic – how do you make baseball too American? – than I do about losing the meaning of honoring, and honoring those who serve it, through gross repetition.

If every single game becomes a ceremony to America, the none of them are. The intent of the celebrations, the meaning of the ceremonies, lose their sincerity when they happen every single day.

Honoring the troops, and honoring our country, at every single sporting events has taken on about the same amount of meaning as brushing our teeth before bed. It’s become a chore, and both our troops and country deserve better.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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