Opinion | How Did Our Sports Get So Divisive?

Opinion | How Did Our Sports Get So Divisive?

Why was everyone — from players to coaches to fans in authentic team gear — suddenly wearing camouflage at a sporting event?

I asked Russel Honoré, the famed American three-star general, what it meant. I said that I didn’t want my 12-year-old son secretly recruited by the Army at Fenway Park. I wanted him to be a kid and enjoy the ballgame. The general said: “Sorry, but we’ve got to man the force, and sports is a great place to find the warrior-athlete. … So hold on to them little SOBs for as long as you can because we need them.”

The general added that maybe some little kid attending a Dallas Cowboys game will see an F-14 fighter buzz the stadium and want to join the Army.

The veterans are watching, too, and not all of them like what they see about the current state of sports. They, too, see that nearly two decades have passed since the towers fell, and all the props and touches designed to uplift a wounded country have become permanent. The American flag appears, and it is not a neutral symbol. It is there to keep you in line. It is fixed to the lapels of politicians and broadcasters, stitched into the uniforms of the referees and the players. It is a decal on the back of football and batting helmets. It appears stickered on the backboard glass on both baskets in N.B.A. arenas.

I’ve heard from veterans who say they are horrified that a profit machine presents an orgy of mismatching military symbols at the stadium, like wearing plaid with stripes. On Memorial Day, the somber day of mourning the dead who fought for this country, Major League Baseball outfits its players in camouflage caps and jerseys, appropriate for active-duty military but not mourning the dead. Indeed, in past seasons, including when the Fourth of July approaches, the day of barbecues and fireworks, of baseball and celebrating the nation’s birthday, teams like the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres have regularly taken the field in camouflage as if it’s Veterans Day.

The veterans said that they are grateful that it looks like Americans care about them. But they are also resentful of being used as shields to prevent any criticism of the country or the military. The soldiers know they serve so Americans can speak their minds, not be cowed into obedience.

They also don’t want to throw out the first pitch nearly as much as they want jobs and the Department of Veterans Affairs fixed.

All of it is political, of course, but very little of it feels partisan, and certainly not when the veterans call. I talked to William Astore, once an Air Force Lt. Colonel, and Mark Zinno, same rank but of the Army, who live on opposite ends of the political spectrum yet watch the money being made off sports attaching itself to the military and reach the same conclusion: What are we doing?

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