How America's Sporting Events Have Turned into Mass Religious Events to Bless Wars and Militarism
How America's Sporting Events Have Turned into Mass Religious Events to Bless Wars and Militarism
By Chris Hedges / truthdig.com

BOSTON, Jul 7, 2014 —On Saturday I went to one of the massive temples across the country where we celebrate our state religion. The temple I visited was Boston’s Fenway Park. I was inspired to go by reading Andrew Bacevich’s thoughtful book “Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country,” which opens with a scene at Fenway from July 4, 2011.

The Fourth of July worship service that I attended last week—a game between the Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles—was a day late because of a rescheduling caused by Tropical Storm Arthur. When the crowd sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” a gargantuan American flag descended to cover “the Green Monster,” the 37-foot, 2-inch-high wall in left field. Patriotic music blasted from loudspeakers. Col. Lester A. Weilacher, commander of the 66th Air Base Group at Massachusetts’ Hanscom Air Force Base, wearing a light blue short-sleeved Air Force shirt and dark blue pants, threw the ceremonial first pitch. A line of Air Force personnel stood along the left field wall. The fighter jets—our angels of death—that usually roar over the stadium on the Fourth were absent. But the face of Fernard Frechette, a 93-year-old World War II veteran who was attending, appeared on the 38-by-100-foot Jumbotron above the center-field seats as part of Fenway’s “Hats Off to Heroes” program, which honors military veterans or active-duty members at every game. The crowd stood and applauded. Army National Guard Sgt. Ben Arnold had been honored at the previous game, on Wednesday. Arnold said his favorite Red Sox player was Mike Napoli. Arnold, who fought in Afghanistan, makes about $27,000 a year. Napoli makes $16 million. The owners of the Red Sox clear about $60 million annually. God bless America.

The religious reverie—repeated in sports arenas throughout the United States—is used to justify our bloated war budget and endless wars. Schools and libraries are closing. Unemployment and underemployment are chronic. Our infrastructure is broken and decrepit. And we will have paid a crippling $4 trillion for the useless and futile wars we waged over the last 13 years in the Middle East. But the military remains as unassailable as Jesus, or, among those who have season tickets at Fenway Park, the Red Sox. The military is the repository of our honor and patriotism. No public official dares criticize the armed forces or challenge their divine right to more than half of all the nation’s discretionary spending. And although we may be distrustful of government, the military—in the twisted logic of the American mind—is somehow separate.

The heroes of war and the heroes of sport are indistinguishable in militarized societies. War is sold to a gullible public as a noble game. Few have the athletic prowess to play professional sports, but almost any young man or woman can go to a recruiter and sign up to be a military hero. The fusion of the military with baseball, along with the recruitment ads that appeared intermittently Saturday on the television screens mounted on green iron pillars throughout Fenway Park, caters to this illusion: Sign up. You will be part of a professional team. We will show you in your uniform on the Jumbotron in Fenway Park. You will be a hero like Mike Napoli.

Saturday’s crowd of some 37,000, which paid on average about $70 for a ticket, dutifully sang hosannas—including “God Bless America” in the seventh inning—to the flag and the instruments of death and war. It blessed and applauded a military machine that, ironically, oversees the wholesale surveillance of everyone in the ballpark and has the power under the National Defense Authorization Act to snatch anyone in the stands and hold him or her indefinitely in a military facility. There was no mention of targeted assassinations of U.S. citizens, kill lists or those lost or crippled in the wars. The crowd roared its approval every time the military was mentioned. It cheered its own enslavement.

War is not a sport. It is about killing. It is dirty, messy and deeply demoralizing. It brings with it trauma, lifelong wounds, loss and feelings of shame and guilt. It leaves bleeding or dead bodies on its fields. The pay is lousy. The working conditions are horrific. And those who come back from war are usually discarded. The veterans who died waiting for medical care from Veterans Affairs hospitals could, if they were alive, explain the difference between being a multimillion-dollar-a-year baseball star and a lance corporal home from Iraq or Afghanistan. At best, you are trotted out for a public event, as long as you read from the script they give you, the one designed to entice the naive into the military. Otherwise, you are forgotten.

All religions need relics. Old uniforms, bats, balls, gloves and caps are preserved in the Baseball Hall of Fame, like the bones of saints in churches. In that Cooperstown, N.Y., museum you walk by glass cases of baseball relics on your way to the third-floor display bearing the words “Sacred Ground: Examining ballparks of the past and present, this exhibit takes a look at America’s cathedrals of the game.” At ballparks the teams display statues of their titans—there is one of left fielder Ted Williams outside Fenway Park. And tens of thousands of dollars are paid for objects used by the immortals. A 1968 Mickey Mantle jersey was auctioned in May for $201,450. Team minutiae and statistics are preserved, much as monasteries preserve details of the lives and deaths of saints. Epic tales of glory and defeat are etched into the permanent record. The military has astutely deified itself through the fans’ deification of teams.

The collective euphoria experienced in stadiums, especially among those struggling to survive in the corporate state, gives to many anxious Americans what they crave. They flock to the temples of sport while most places of traditional religious worship in the United States are largely deserted on the Sabbath. Those packed into the stadiums feel as if they and everyone around them speak the same language. They believe those in the crowd are one entity. And they all hate the same enemy. To walk through Fenway Park in a New York Yankees shirt is to court verbal abuse. To be identified as a Yankees fan after a game in one of the bars outside the park is unwise. The longing to belong, especially in a society where many have lost their sense of place and identity, is skillfully catered to by both the professional sports machine and the military propaganda machine.

Many sports devotees return after the games to dead-end jobs, or no jobs, to massive personal debt, to the bleakness of the future. No wonder supplicants at Fenway Park part with such large sums of money to be entranced by fantasy for a few hours. And no wonder it is hard to distinguish the fantasy of a game from the fantasy of the military. Life in the Army or the Marines begins to look like spending a few years at Fenway. And that is why the military invests so much in sponsoring sporting events. Between innings Saturday, the screen above my head flashed segments called “U.S. Army Presents Top Prospects” that showcased promising ballplayers. Recruitment ads appeared at intervals. And the logo “Discover a Stronger Future. There’s Strong. There’s Army Strong” was ubiquitous. The Pentagon spends some $4.7 billion a year on recruiting, advertising, public affairs and psychological operations, according to a 2009 report published by The Associated Press. And much of that is targeted at the audiences of professional sports.

The owners of coal companies at the turn of the 20th century in southern West Virginia found that by funding local baseball teams they could blunt the solidarity of workers. Towns and coal camps rallied around their individual teams. Workers divided themselves according to team loyalty. Sport rivalries became personal. The owners, elated, used the teams to help fracture the labor movement. And the infernal logic is no different today. The players on a baseball team—who usually do not come from the city they represent—are used to promote a provincial chauvinism and a false sense of belonging and empowerment. And the financial, emotional and intellectual energy invested by fans in these well-choreographed spectacles keeps the onlookers docile and supine.

The Boston Globe and the Knight-Ridder media chain reported in 2005 that Phillip H. Morse, a minority partner of the Boston Red Sox, chartered his private jet to the Central Intelligence Agency, which used it to pick up terrorism suspects in the Middle East and Europe and fly them to Guantanamo Bay. The plane was spotted in Cairo on Feb. 18, 2003, according to Knight-Ridder. The imam of Milan, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, had been kidnapped the day before on a Milan street by the CIA and the Italian Military Intelligence and Security Service. He was then flown clandestinely to Egypt. It is nearly certain that Morse’s plane was used for that flight. The imam was allegedly beaten and tortured in an Egyptian-run “black site.” The Gulfstream jet, the Globe reported, rented for $5,365 an hour, which, it calculated, worked out to $128,760 for a 24-hour day, or about $900,000 a week. Not even the highest-paid star on the Red Sox makes that much money. 

The use of the Morse jet to carry out extraordinary rendition exposes the dark side of professional sports, how it is used by oligarchs and the military to manipulate and control us. The Red Sox logo that normally adorns the plane was missing. But the logo in any case would not have been visible to the imam, whose head would have been covered with a hood. The only difference between the imam and the rest of us is that we don’t require blindfolds.

4.3 ·
2
What's Next
Trending Today
Something Extraordinary Is Happening in the World, And Most People Haven't Noticed
Gustavo Tanaka · 20,008 views today · Most of us haven't quite realized there is something extraordinary happening. A few months ago, I freed myself from standard-procedure society. I broke the chains of fear that...
A Simple 6 Step Self Compassion Exercise to Combat Depression and Low Self Esteem
5 min · 13,652 views today · It’s all too easy to be extremely tough on ourselves; we need – at points – to get better at self-compassion. Here is an exercise in how to lessen the voices of self-flagellation.
The Pain You Feel Is Capitalism Dying
Joe Brewer · 10,728 views today · I know it hurts — but what you are feeling (alongside millions of others) is the natural consequence of late-stage capitalism.
Britain's Landed Elite, Backed by Money Earned Through Slavery, Are Using Migrants as Scapegoats
Andrew Butler · 9,528 views today · This is Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, a Conservative Member of Parliament for South Dorset. He lives in Charborough House (pictured above) on his the family’s...
What You Do for a Living Doesn’t Interest Me- I Want to Know What You Ache For
Oriah · 8,762 views today · It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you...
The Most Eco-Friendly Nation on the Planet Is Now Carbon Negative
Carolanne Wright · 7,930 views today · Lodged between two of the most populated countries on earth — India and China — Bhutan may be small at 700,000 souls, but it has a mighty role to play in showing the world how...
Millions of Americans Now Claim Donald Trump Does Not Exist
Richard Heinberg · 7,863 views today · On May 13 the American news media reported that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had recruited U.S. Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer of North...
A World War Has Begun - Break The Silence
John Pilger · 7,770 views today · I have been filming in the Marshall Islands, which lie north of Australia, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Whenever I tell people where I have been, they ask, "Where is...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 6,444 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
We're Living in a Racial Caste System Designed to Divide Us, Benefiting No One But the 1%
11 min · 4,689 views today · This powerful new video by Matthew Cooke is currently spreading like wildfire across the internet, and with good reason. Pulling together disparate stands to create the story...
3 Signs Corporate Work Culture Has Become Toxic to the Human Spirit
Sigmund Fraud · 4,355 views today · Feeling trapped on the corporate ladder? You’re not alone… our work culture has become uncaring, toxic and rather dangerous to our well-being.
Ikigai - Finding Your Reason for Being
Chip Richards · 3,718 views today · What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning? When asked what is the single most powerful contributing factor to one’s health and vitality, integrative medical...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 3,315 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
A Non-Exhaustive List of All the Things I Used to Do to Try to Become More Beautiful
Rosemary Donahue · 3,200 views today · I used to get made fun of for my big front teeth. Once, when I got home from school, I found my mom’s nail file and tried to file them down. The edge of the nail file caught...
Nature By Numbers - Exploring The Extraordinary Geometric Patterns Around Us
4 min · 2,359 views today · From shells to sunflowers, dragonfly eyes to bee hives, you can find amazing connected paterns throughout nature. 
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into A Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,915 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Nowhere Line: Voices From Manus Island
15 min · 1,868 views today · An animated short film, narrated by two asylum-seeking men detained in Australia's Manus Island Offshore Processing Centre, recounting the dangerous journeys that brought them...
Comic: If Bart Simpson and Chris Griffin Went to Couples Therapy as Adults
Panic Volkushka · 1,801 views today · "My dad was an abusive alcoholic, or whatever. He'd go to the bar, come home drunk, find out I'd f-cked up at school, and he'd choke me out."
World Wildlife Fund Partners with Logging Company
Survival International · 1,693 views today · French logging company and official partner of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is deforesting a huge area of rainforest in southeast Cameroon without the consent of local Baka...
How The Elite Stay In Power
5 min · 1,593 views today · In this video we break down in simple terms the only way "those in power" can stay in power. It's not as complex at it may seem. They need us more than we need them.
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
How America's Sporting Events Have Turned into Mass Religious Events to Bless Wars and Militarism