There is a natural affinity between sports and the military. Both unambiguously reward hard work and excellence. Both teach personal responsibility for success or failure, and celebrate the virtues of courage, earned-pride, and honor. Sporting events are also among the biggest occasions when Americans come together in their communities to enjoy the fruits of freedom that our service men and women provide. So I’ve never found it surprising or objectionable that most sporting events in America start out with the national anthem or that we often take the opportunity of sporting events to honor those who fight for all of us.
But ESPN senior writer Howard Bryant opines in the current issue of ESPN The Magazine that this is all an “uncomfortable change in sports in post-9/11 America.” He apparently failed to research the long history of military pageantry in sports, cemented in America by the playing of the national anthem at the 1918 World Series, which provoked such a positive patriotic outpouring from the fans that most major sports leagues have been doing it ever since. Ignoring this history, Bryant suggests that the destruction of the World Trade Center is “the root of the change . . . an unstable metastasizing of fear, nationalism, patriotism – and especially commerce.” To be fair, the reference to commerce is a nod towards legitimate complaints that sports teams sometimes demand payment for making patriotic displays. This is a point others have made, not to decry the patriotism, but to suggest that the teams should be doing it out of gratitude rather than greed.
Yet Bryant makes it clear that his real objection is that the military is honored at all. He laments “terrorism fears allow the military presence in the culture to exist unquestioned” and grumps that “sections of uniformed military personnel receive gratuitous camera time.” The Chicago Blackhawks, he says, should not celebrate Veterans Day because of “the colliding imagery – the systematic removal of native tribes occurred at the hands of the U.S. Army.” He’s also not fond of police, sneering at the “mishmash of anthem-singing cops and surprise homecomings in the time of Ferguson and militarized police.” The LA Dodgers, he notes with disgust, “pandered to police by holding Law Enforcement Appreciation Night in September.”
It’s a free country, thanks largely to the sacrifices of people that Mr. Bryant so clearly holds in contempt. And unlike so many on the left I believe free speech includes the right to be deeply offensive. But that doesn’t mean we can’t exercise our own right to free speech in return. Mr. Bryant’s disgusting, whining, cowardly condemnation of our soldiers and veterans should be condemned in turn. We should all let ESPN know exactly how we feel about it. We should make like-minded people aware of it so that they can do the same. This is not the kind of thing that should go unanswered. It may seem trivial, but this is how it starts. Many on the left would love to destroy the honored place of the military in our culture, but they won’t do it all at once. They’re cowards and understand that they would face too much resistance. So they’ll try to exclude it, weaken it, dishonor it, just a little bit by a time. Don’t let them. Don’t give them an inch. We can disagree in good faith about how aggressively to use our military in the world, but everyone who loves this country should honor those that serve. We should put voice to that belief, and loudly, every time we come across a Bryant.