Blurring Sports and the Military

af uniform

W.J. Astore

(For an extended essay on sports and the military, please see my latest at TomDispatch.com:  “Why Can’t We Just Play Ball? The Militarization of Sports and the Redefinition of Patriotism,” August 19, 2018, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176459.)

There’s a lot of blurring and blending of sports with the military in the USA today, but my service branch, the U.S. Air Force, has taken it to a new level.  The Falcons football team at the USAF Academy has issued a new “alternate” uniform in honor of air power and specifically the AC-130 gunship.  What this means is that cadets can now wear helmets that feature spooky, grim-reaper-like images together with images of the AC-130 firing on some indistinct enemy below.  Check it out above and below:

reaperThe fog and the shark-like tailfin in the background are nice touches.  Somebody probably got a promotion and/or a commendation medal for putting this campaign together.

Of course, the Air Force celebrates flight, using falcons as the team mascot, which makes sense.   But uniforms dedicated to and celebrating a specific weapon system — really?  The AC-130 gunship rains death from the sky; it’s a nasty weapon system and certainly one that I’d want on my side in a shooting war.  But putting it on football helmets with images of screaming skeletons is a bit much.

How did military academies like West Point and Annapolis play football for so long with just regular uniforms?  Without images of tanks or battleships adorning their uniforms?

I know: I’m an old fuddy-duddy.  This is the new military — the military of warriors and warfighters.  These new uniforms: so cool!  So sexy!  Dealing death is so much fun!

Why is it that these new “alternate” football uniforms of the AF Academy remind me, not of our citizen-airmen force of the past, but of some sinister, darker, force of the future?  Why does the Star Trek episode, “Mirror, Mirror,” come to mind?  (Hint: We’re no longer the “good” Federation.)

uhura
Knives and scars are in plain view in the barbarian “mirror” universe of Star Trek

(You can go to https://twitter.com/hashtag/LetsFly and watch an Air Force video that links AC-130 combat footage with the new uniform, complete with lusty music and stoked players.)

Readers, what say you?

11 thoughts on “Blurring Sports and the Military

  1. The military is really the only functioning, non-entertainment institution America has left that represents a coherent system of values and purpose. No wonder anyone besides celebrity-drunk consumers wants to be linked to them

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    1. It is the patriarchy. Blending military might with athletic prowess is the social equivalent of male gorillas beating their chests. American patriotism has devolved into worship of the patriarchy and the alpha male. All this He-man display is meant to reinforce a very rigid hierarchy of White Men on Top.

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  2. Just think of how much better they’ll Play. Skeletons and Death from above is Cool especially with Halloween coming up. You need to embrace the creativity and change from the dull, boring Uniforms of the past. Life is after all always recreating the past and moving into the future!. I’m sure the ancients in the Roman Coliseums would be impressed, Gladiators too…Perfect for our vacuous modern society and its empty pursuit of meaning through celebrity worship and materialism!.

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  3. I believe the one side of the helmet has a Deaths Head. Let’s see I believe the Germans had one in WW2, 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf. Germans were not only military to use the Death’s Head.

    I suppose it would not fit in with the Warrior Cult image to have cargo plane decals with the words Berlin Airlift underneath on the helmet.

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    1. Thanks, ML. I thought of the death’s head connection to the SS but decided not to go there. As you say, other militaries have used it. Still, it’s tone-deaf.

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  4. I think this is a classic example of what happens when the military budget stays too high for too long. Just like in a company that goes too many years without a crisis/correction, inefficiencies accumulate. So you get teams of people who spend 40 hours a week figuring out how to do branding and advertising, and to justify their salaries (and their bosses’ need to have people to manage so they can get promoted) they have to come up with new stuff to do every year.

    I mean, all the branches have changed their uniforms up, what, two or three times since 2001? Because it is very important for sailors to (sort of) blend in with their ships (and the ocean, making it extra fun when someone falls overboard, I imagine), and drone operators in Florida to wear camo so they feel appropriately ‘downrange.’ (or, more accurately, so their bosses can feel that way).

    Betcha there’s whole teams in the Pentagon that spend weeks doing nothing but assembling powerpoints displaying hypothetical designs for football helmets. All part of the theatre, in the end. Like the now-famous picture of Obama and company supposedly watching a live video feed broadcast from a Seal’s helmet when they went to execute Bin Laden. Note how they don’t actually show the screen, which I’ll bet a LOT of money doesn’t show any kind of live feed from the front. If it did, half the old geezers would be puking from motion sickness, ’cause a soldier doesn’t just look straight ahead and walk slowly when risking it all in a firefight…

    I’d call it psyops, but really it doesn’t even rise to that level. Just corporate branding.

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  5. The purpose of a military should be to preserve freedoms. It is the freedoms they protect that should be celebrated not the means required.

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  6. When I was studying history among other things like politics I learned that in the late 1800s organized sports was introduced due to the fading of ‘patriotism’. This was done to create ‘team spirit’ to replace the former. It seems to have worked out well for the warfare nation we have always been. We are such a nation so as to keep the weapons dealers/manufacturers wealthy. And to this day there is no one who can deny this. (The only other ‘nation’ we have become is a prison industry complex nation to keep the prison businesses (cops, courts, local jails and prisons) going.

    I bought a glass in a bargain store (99 cents only) that was stamped made in U.S.A. It was the first such article I had seem in the public stores and it was made in a prison. Most prison goods are made for organizations/corporations and generally are not seen by the public.

    I know I digress, but this combat disabled Vietnam vet has had a long time to study this country. We were present in Vietnam/Indo-China at the very time we were becoming a nation. Thanks to the end of that murder for profit war that part of the world knows peace for the first time in 400 years. And yes, I read a tremendous lot.

    And what I see of the America that everyone thinks is a wonderful place is and has always been a place for the rich and powerful only. The lower classes mean nothing to those in power and/or wealthy. We are a disgusting example of greed, avarice, lies and scum. I personally wish I had been born elsewhere, it at all.

    So, joining sports in place of militarism is a misnomer…. Read the history books that tell the truth and not the effluence that is taught in our schools to get them ready for being slaves to a warfare nation. America as it has been and as presently is is disgusting…

    War is murder and I was taught that it was wrong to kill. But at age 18 I had the choice of dodging the draft (a form of slavery) or joining. I made the mistake of joining.

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  7. I have been thinking about this issue all year. It drives me nuts. The Verizon #for heroes nonsense I had to hear during a sports podcast for a week or more.
    This has ruined football for me (and Jerry Jones’ stance on the issue of protesting.)
    Thank you.

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