Opinion: Equating sports with war

Jody Michel

Jody Michael

Jody Michael is a junior broadcast journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

“The Office” ran an episode this season in which Andy, the new boss, takes his employees on a field trip to Gettysburg for inspiration because “business is war.” It was stupid, like most episodes have been since Steve Carell left, but it ended with Jim thankfully knocking some sense into Andy.

“Andy, this whole idea of our situation being just like war? It’s just not true,” Jim said. “We just work at a paper company.”

It seems easy to slip into the analogy that something completely unlike war is somehow exactly like war. It happens in politics—­polarizing the parties into absolute opposites like “leaders” and “enemies,” referring to debates and primary elections as “battles.”

I would argue that the worst offender of war rhetoric is the sports industry; and within the sports industry, Nike Inc. undoubtedly takes the cake.

In 2009, Nike Inc. created special one-time uniform designs for 10 college football teams. Dubbed the “Pro Combat” line, the company made a big deal about their uniforms being 37 percent lighter than the standard design. But the real intention was obvious: sell more jerseys, make more money.

Schools with timeless uniforms like Ohio State and Louisiana State University now had outlandish new designs to wear. Clearly, Nike Inc. hated that some of its clients preferred tradition over tweaking uniforms each year, just to have another new product to sell. “Pro Combat” solved that untapped revenue stream.

That’s not the worst part. To make these designs seem extremely important, and to pretend that the incentive for making them wasn’t for profit, Nike Inc. lavished its marketing with war references.

Florida State’s design paid tribute to Native American warriors. Missouri’s apparently drew inspiration from the state’s Air Force base. Virginia Tech hyped its uniform unveiling by parking a Humvee on campus adorned with Nike Inc. swooshes.

Press releases mentioned “college gridiron warriors” wearing “next-generation battle gear” and the slogan “Prepare for Combat.” My dictionary defines “combat” as “fighting between armed forces,” which football teams are not. Nevertheless, three years later, Nike Inc. continues to make new “Pro Combat” uniforms.

Others are also at fault: Teams of every sport and level often wear camouflage uniforms under the guise of supporting troops, but that’s the type of “slack-tivism” that does absolutely nothing.

Uni Watch blogger Paul Lukas commented, “Much like a ‘Support Our Troops’ car magnet, a camo uniform is an empty gesture that makes the gesturer feel good but demands no sacrifice, no contribution, nothing substantive.”

I consider it just another attempt to elevate athletes to the status of actual military members who put their lives at stake for their country.

Last week, this comparison of sports with war reached its apex. New York has held ticker-tape parades for servicemen from World War II and the Vietnam, Gulf and Korean wars. Nearly two months since the Iraq War ended, Mayor Michael Bloomberg still refuses to hold a parade for those veterans.

Two days after the Super Bowl, Times Square held a celebration for the New York Giants.