Tune into an American football match, and one of the odd things you’ll likely notice is a heavy military presence. No, the military isn’t guarding the stadium…they’re a major center of attention, only surpassed by the players themselves.
Military presence in sports events will likely seem odd to non-Americans. You might be one of them wondering why fighter jets and stealth bombers designed to kill and destroy fly over sports matches while the audience roars in amazement. But don’t read much into it because the answer is simple. It’s a unique form of jingoism and flag-waving present in American culture that might seem odd to other Western cultures. You’ll be disappointed if you think we’re here to criticize because we think it looks very cool.
Tune out for a second and consider that every culture has quirks that seem odd to other cultures, including very similar ones. Sports is closely linked to patriotism and some healthy dose of nationalism in American culture. In times of division and heightened polarization, people consider sports a rare source of unity. It doesn’t matter what cultural, political, and social values one might hold and disagree with others, sports matches are the time to hang them somewhere and enjoy the show in harmony.
The spectacle in sports events also serves as a recruiting and advertising tool for the military. “Look at the cool stuff we do…why don’t you come join us?!” Sometimes, the military pays for the privilege of putting up the spectacle for the crowd. In 2015, a report from two American Senators, Jeff Flake and the late John McCain, revealed that the U.S. military spent $6.8 million on “paid patriotism” events, giving money to teams in the National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Soccer (MLS), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the NASCAR car racing series.
Some might call this “propaganda.” Maybe, but there’s something to appreciate about US “propaganda” being the most effective, the type you won’t recognize because it’s so subtle, unlike the overtly jingoistic and outrightly comedic shows some countries put out (we won’t mention names, but they typically have an autocrat, dictator, or “strong man” as a leader). On the other hand, we cheer during sports matches and roar while watching Top Gun: Maverick. That’s how to do effective “propaganda”…other countries can take note.
You’re reading Cool Military Stuff, so don’t expect us to push back against military displays in sports events. Left to us, we will crank up the displays to make them better. With an annual budget of $817 billion, the U.S. military can surely afford a lot more extravaganza.
Why do you see overt military displays at U.S. sports matches? It energizes the audience and helps the U.S. military recruit the next generation of personnel. If you’re not a fan…well, you can tune out or just stay calm in those moments and pretend nothing happens. Over here, we love it!