by Catherine McCarthy
Amidst all of the post super bowl chatter about the Raven’s win, and the best and worst commercials was this Monday morning quarterbacking from the Washington Post: When we cheer for our team, do we have to cheer for America, too? The writer, for some unknown reason, wondered why our service members and patriotism HAVE TO be a part of every big sporting event.
Normally, I just roll my eyes at this kind of drive by piece, but for some reason, this essay struck a nerve with me. I found myself mentally responding to every sentence in the first paragraph:
The customary flyover by fighter jets may be absent from this weekend’s Super Bowl; after all, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans is covered.
But the Louisiana Air National Guard 159th Fighter Wing was flying over…providing security. Just a regular day for a lot of our service members.
CBS will cut to shots of troops watching the game overseas.
We hope every one of them enjoyed it and returns home to their family. Some won’t.
Veterans will be recognized on the stadium’s video boards.
At least they are getting recognized…as more than a suicide statistic.
And flag imagery will abound, as will stirring renditions of the national anthem and, most likely, “America the Beautiful.”
The Newtown children’s choir singing America the Beautiful was kind of nice, I thought. And The Star Spangled Banner is actually quite hard to sing as written. Two competitors sang it a capella at my daughter’s swim meet last Wednesday night. When that beautiful soprano voice hit that high note, I had goose bumps. Not something I get when I hear “All the Single Ladies.”
It is so tempting, and would be all too easy, to go down Professor Jenkins essay piece by piece and respond. But those of us who are or have been serving for any length of time have been down this road before. Been there, heard that.
But, why she is scratching her head and bemoaning the mystery of all of the “militaristic rituals” is beyond me. That concept dates back to the Greeks (Olympics, anyone?) and further.
Has the professor who wrote “The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television” ever seen one of the numerous hour long recaps of prior Super Bowls and big games? The ominous music as they flash to the teams lined up at the line of scrimmage, the slow motion clashing at the hand off. The description of players as “warriors”, even going so far as the close up of bloodied and bruised fingers and stained jerseys. Games are referred to in glorious voiceovers as “wars” and “battles”. With football being arguably a 100% American sport on top of it, it isn’t hard to see why the patriotic theme runs throughout the big game.
That’s a theme. Not political statement. And while I reject rudeness as a general rule, what the athletes held up as being mistreated for their stands did was a political statement. I may not like pink, but I don’t go to my friend’s daughter’s birthday party and start railing on gender roles because of her choice of pink decorations. File that under “tact” and “no brainer.”
I am going to assume that the Professor is quite learned, and that none of what I have written above is news to her, so it begs the question of the purpose of her piece. I’ll leave that up to each reader to decide.
In a few days, I’m going to be at Old Dominion University watching my daughter, her teammates, and many others compete in a huge meet that will decide if they go on to the State Championship. The flag will be flown. The National Anthem will be played. I guarantee that behind the blocks, at that moment, will be a teenager with an aching heart for a parent who won’t be there to see this moment. There will be veterans there for whom the National anthem reminds them of friends lost, the pain of injuries, but the sweetness of watching these children live free. Men and women in uniform (we call them parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and friends). Some coming off duty, some going on, some on their lunch break. It is not “vaudeville silencing political dissent”, “gimmickry” or a “cheap thrill.”
I live in a heavily military area, with major bases. For many in this area, the words “war”, “veteran” and “service member” are not abstract terms, or political statements, they’re realities. The weekend before the “theatrics” that so irritate the Professor, Hampton buried a native son. KIA in Afghanistan. 25 years old. Folks stood in sub freezing weather, on snow covered sidewalks to pay respects as the procession went by. My children go to school daily with children whose parents are on their umpteenth deployment. Their field trips are to places like Yorktown Battlefield. You can’t throw a rock in this area without hitting a Civil War site. My daughter regularly competes at Hampton University, where you can still visit the Emancipation Oak. It also happens to be in sight of the major VA Regional Medical Center. Look a little further and you can see Ft Monroe. Real history. Real reminders of who we are and the reason we can get up every morning and not be afraid. Rough men, and women, have and will continue to stand at the ready.
My challenge to the Professor is this: dig deeper. Look beyond Iraq, Afghanistan, September 11, 2001. Talk to a military family, a veteran, a wounded warrior. Might take some effort as we tend to look like everyone else. We hide in plain sight, so to speak. Even in crowds at the Super Bowl.