The NFL's Chickenhawk Celebrations, From Some Veterans' Points of View

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
This was the pre-kickoff scene for the Dolphins and Bills yesterday (AP photo, also used in Will Bardenwerper’s WaPo piece)


Will Bardenwerper, who joined the Army after the 9/11 attacks and served as an infantry officer in Iraq, has a very strong essay in the Washington Post just now on the hollowness of the “Salute to the Heroes!” rituals that have become part of professional sports, especially the NFL. The title gives you the idea: “How patriotic pageantry at sporting events lost its meaning.” Here is a sample:

I should appreciate these moments at professional sporting events. I did once, but not so much anymore. Neither do a surprising number of the men with whom I served…. These moments, after a decade and a half of continuous war, have become rote and perfunctory, unintentionally trivializing what began with the best of intentions.

And, more pointedly, about the scenes that might accompany the heartwarming videos of a service member being reunited with spouse and children:

When I saw this, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would have been like if, instead, the Jumbotron had carried live footage of a military “casualty notification” officer in his dress uniform approaching the door of a comfortable home in middle America, stepping across a carefully manicured lawn, knocking on the door, an American flag blowing lazily in the breeze overhead, and having a mother collapse in tears at the sight of him, before he even has a chance to tell her that her only son had been shot and killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Very much worth reading. Bardenwerper even has a “to do” suggestion at the end of his essay. Conceivably at some point the chickenhawk shamelessness of these spectacles will sink in.

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Additionally, from a reader on the East Coast:

Yesterday at noon I posted on Facebook that, as a veteran, I was NOT “honored” when the NFL’s partners sell camo clothing.

I got 25 likes, and I only have 100 – 125 “friends”.