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Swanson writes: "Super Bowl 50 will be the first National Football League championship to happen since it was reported that much of the pro-military hoopla at football games, the honoring of troops and glorifying of wars that most people had assumed was voluntary or part of a marketing scheme for the NFL, has actually been a money-making scheme for the NFL."

The Department of Defense paid for tributes that are part of the NFL's 'Salute to Service,' such as this one before a 2013 game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos. (photo: Elise Amendola/AP)
The Department of Defense paid for tributes that are part of the NFL's 'Salute to Service,' such as this one before a 2013 game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos. (photo: Elise Amendola/AP)

The Super Bowl Promotes War

By David Swanson, teleSUR

07 February 16


The idea that there is anything questionable about coating a sporting event in military promotion is the furthest thing from the minds of most viewers.

uper Bowl 50 will be the first National Football League championship to happen since it was reported that much of the pro-military hoopla at football games, the honoring of troops and glorifying of wars that most people had assumed was voluntary or part of a marketing scheme for the NFL, has actually been a money-making scheme for the NFL. The U.S. military has been dumping millions of our dollars, part of a recruitment and advertising budget that's in the billions, into paying the NFL to publicly display love for soldiers and weaponry.

Of course, the NFL may in fact really truly love the military, just as it may love the singers it permits to sing at the Super Bowl halftime show, but it makes them pay for the privilege too. And why shouldn't the military pay the football league to hype its heroism? It pays damn near everybody else. At $2.8 billion a year on recruiting some 240,000 "volunteers," that's roughly $11,600 per recruit. That's not, of course, the trillion with a T kind of spending it takes to run the military for a year; that's just the spending to gently persuade each "volunteer" to join up. The biggest military "service" ad buyer in the sports world is the National Guard. The ads often depict humanitarian rescue missions. Recruiters often tell tall tales of "non-deployment" positions followed by free college. But it seems to me that the $11,600 would have gone a long way toward paying for a year in college! And, in fact, people who have that money for college are far less likely to be recruited.

Despite showing zero interest in signing up for wars, and despite the permanent presence of wars to sign up for, 44 percent of U.S. Americans tell the Gallup polling company that they "would" fight in a war, yet don't. That's at least 100 million new recruits. Luckily for them and the world, telling a pollster something doesn't require follow through, but it might suggest why football fans tolerate and even celebrate military national anthems and troop-hyping hoopla at every turn. They think of themselves as willing warriors who just happen to be too busy at the moment. As they identify with their NFL team, making remarks such as "We just scored," while firmly seated on their most precious assets, football fans also identify with their team on the imagined battlefield of war.

The NFL website says:

"For decades the NFL and the military have had a close relationship at the Super Bowl, the most watched program year-to-year throughout the United States. In front of more than 160 million viewers, the NFL salutes the military with a unique array of in-game celebrations including the presentation of colors, on-field guests, pre-game ceremonies and stadium flyovers. During Super Bowl XLIX week [last year], the Pat Tillman Foundation and the Wounded Warriors Project invited veterans to attend the Salute to Service: Officiating 101 Clinic at NFL Experience Engineered by GMC [double payment? ka-ching!] in Arizona."

Pat Tillman, still promoted on the NFL website, and eponym of the Pat Tillman Foundation, is of course the one NFL player who gave up a giant football contract to join the military. What the Foundation won't tell you is that Tillman, as is quite common, ceased believing what the ads and recruiters had told him. On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become critical of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with the prominent war critic Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, all information that Tillman's mother and Chomsky later confirmed.

Tillman couldn't confirm it because he had died in Afghanistan in 2004 from three bullets to the forehead at short range, bullets shot by an American. The White House and the military knew Tillman had died from so-called friendly fire, but they falsely told the media he'd died in a hostile exchange. Senior Army commanders knew the facts and yet approved awarding Tillman a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion, all based on his having died fighting the "enemy." Clearly the military wants a connection to football and is willing to lie as well as to pay for it. The Pat Tillman Foundation mis-uses a dead man's name to play on and prey on the mutual interest of football and the military in being connected to each other.

Those on whom the military's advertising succeeds will not typically die from friendly fire. Nor will they die from enemy fire. The number one killer of members of the U.S. military, reported yet again for another year this week, is suicide. And that's not even counting later suicides by veterans. Every TV pundit and presidential debate moderator, and perhaps even a Super Bowl 50 announcer or two, tends to talk about the military's answer for ISIS. What is its answer for people being stupidly ordered into such horrific hell that they won't want to live anymore?

It's in the ads

At least as big a focus of the Super Bowl as the game itself is the advertising. One particularly disturbing ad planned for Super Bowl 50 is an ad for a war video game. The U.S. military has long funded war video games and viewed them as recruiting tools. In this ad Arnold Schwarzenegger shows what fun it is to shoot people and blow up buildings on the game, while outside of the game people are tackling him more or less as in a football game. Nothing here is remotely warlike in a realistic sense. For that I recommend playing with PTSD Action Man instead. But it does advance the equation of sport with war - something both the NFL and the military clearly desire.

An ad last year from Northrop Grumman, which has its own "Military Bowl," was no less disturbing. Two years ago an ad that appeared to be for the military until the final seconds turned out to be for Jeeps. There was another ad that year for Budweiser beer with which one commentator found legal concerns:

"First, there's a violation of the military's ethics regulations, which explicitly state that Department of Defense personnel cannot 'suggest official endorsement or preferential treatment' of any 'non-Federal entity, event, product, service, or enterprise. ... Under this regulation, the Army cannot legally endorse Budweiser, nor allow its active-duty personnel to participate in their ads (let alone wear their uniforms), any more than the Army can endorse Gatorade or Nike."

Two serious issues with this. First, the military routinely endorses and promotes the NFL. Second, despite my deep-seated opposition to the very existence of an institution of mass murder, and my clear understanding of what it wants out of advertisements (whether by itself or by a car or beer company), I can't help getting sucked into the emotion. The technique of this sort of propaganda (here's another ad) is very high level. The rising music. The facial expressions. The gestures. The buildup of tension. The outpouring of simulated love. You'd have to be a monster not to fall for this poison. And it permeates the world of millions of wonderful young people who deserve better.

It's in the stadium

If you get past the commercials, there's the problem of the stadium for Super Bowl 50, unlike most stadiums for most sports events, being conspicuously "protected" by the military and militarized police, including with military helicopters and jets that will shoot down any drones and "intercept" any planes. Ruining the pretense that this is actually for the purpose of protecting anyone, military jets will show off by flying over the stadium, as in past years, when they have even done it over stadiums covered by domes.

The idea that there is anything questionable about coating a sporting event in military promotion is the furthest thing from the minds of most viewers of the Super Bowl. That the military's purpose is to kill and destroy, that it's recent major wars have eventually been opposed as bad decisions from the start by a majority of Americans, just doesn't enter into it. On the contrary, the military publicly questions whether it should be associating with a sports league whose players hit their wives and girlfriends too much.

My point is not that assault is acceptable, but that murder isn't. The progressive view of the Super Bowl in the United States will question the racism directed at a black quarterback, the concussions of a violent sport that damages the brains of too many of its players (and perhaps even the recruitment of new players from the far reaches of the empire to take their place), sexist treatment of cheerleaders or women in commercials, and perhaps even the disgusting materialism of some of the commercials. But not the militarism. The announcers will thank "the troops" for watching from "over 175 countries" and nobody will pause, set down their beer and dead animal flesh and ask whether 174 countries might not be enough to have U.S. troops in right now.

The idea that the Super Bowl promotes is that war is more or less like football, only better. I was happy to help get a TV show canceled that turned war into a reality game. There is still some resistance to that idea that can be tapped in the U.S. public. But I suspect it is eroding.

The NFL doesn't just want the military's (our) money. It wants the patriotism, the nationalism, the fervent blind loyalty, the unthinking passion, the personal identification, a love for the players to match love of troops -- and with similar willingness to throw them under a bus.

The military doesn't just want the sheer numbers of viewers attracted to the Super Bowl. It wants wars imagined as sporting events between teams, rather than horrific crimes perpetrated on people in their homes and villages. It wants us thinking of Afghanistan not as a 15-year disaster, murder-spree, and counter-productive SNAFU, but as a competition gone into double quadruple overtime despite the visiting team being down 84 points and attempting an impossible comeback. The military wants chants of "USA!" that fill a stadium. It wants role models and heroes and local connections to potential recruits. It wants kids who can't make it to the pros in football or another sport to think they've got the inside track to something even better and more meaningful.

I really wish they did. your social media marketing partner


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+31 # Thomas Martin 2016-02-07 22:54
One of the most disturbing signs of the our country's problems is our military sponsoring and heavily participating in the festivities of professional sports events, particularly pro football, but college too, and other sports as well.
+20 # Farafalla 2016-02-07 23:41
The only thing missing is an NRA-NFL campaign.
+13 # elkingo 2016-02-08 01:48
The NFL is symbol and substance of the war-psychosis. Gaining ground and defending it, with as much violence as possible without guns.
And the rabid partisanship of the fans: a kind of wacko patriotism. That and TBIs.
0 # Caliban 2016-02-09 00:12
NFL football is a game, and it is a damned good one. And nobody among the many fans I know regards it as anything more.
+1 # Rain17 2016-02-09 02:11
This is why America doesn't really take the far left seriously. I'm a liberal and I love going to football game. In fact I'm a season ticket holder to an NFL team. Does that make me less pure?
+2 # RMDC 2016-02-10 07:14
Rain -- you are able to separate the ethos of war from the ethos of gaming, but very many people do not. The military counts on the inability of people to dissociate these things.

War is outright murder of poor people by the most powerful nation on earth. It is about the Annihilation of the other. Football and all sports are cooperative activities. Each team or each players follows rules for competing against each other. After the game they are all friends. The losers may be unhappy but the respect the play of the winner. The military just drops bombs on civilians they never see and don't know at all.

Elk is right -- football does promote the war psychosis in people who don't think very deeply. And that is a lot of people.
+12 # Glen 2016-02-08 06:25
The military infects numerous aspects of U.S. society, and the brain washing is having its effect. I'm certain folks have read of the kindergartens being visited by recruiters. Jets, flags, songs, all of it permeate all, not just the Super Bowl.

Won't be too long before blood sports will be introduced in major stadiums. Not much has changed since Rome.
+7 # RLF 2016-02-08 08:43
Christian fundamentalism has infected the military also.

I just wanted to say...the military chorus that sang the national anthem was all white except for 1...what the hell???
-19 # skylinefirepest 2016-02-08 10:40
Geez, what a stupid article written obviously for liberals who don't give a damn about service to their nation. Why don't some of you whiny bastards actually do something to benefit the country that gives you the right to spout such foolish bullshit?? Try being a soldier, fireman, policeman, para-medic and do something that would actually make you feel proud of yourself??
+10 # NGB 2016-02-08 11:13
Which one of the invasions of other countries in the last few decades was of 'service to the nation'?
+5 # RLF 2016-02-08 13:29
I did do something positive for the country...I DIDN'T go into the military!
0 # Rain17 2016-02-09 02:12
I'll say it again. Attacking the military isn't going to get people to support more progressive ideas. Another point. A message that implies or directly states that "America sucks" isn't going to get support.
+2 # Glen 2016-02-09 10:15
If you'll notice, nobody discusses the military except concerned citizens. The reason for that is the total power of the military and not one person running for any office will denounce military spending in favor of funding the health of the country, including citizens.

Military spending is enormous - 60 to 70 percent of the budget. THAT is why so many people are concerned, but why the government and candidates will not interfere with the military. There is an agenda.
+6 # cetiger 2016-02-08 09:24
An article in an early 1970's issue of Christian Century magazine titled "Pigskin Piety" made some good points, for example that Super Bowl Sunday is America's biggest secular holiday, and that professional football is what our soldiers do in "peace time." Connecting the Big Game and US military power doubly reinforces what many consider to be patriotism. It's a potent potion.
+7 # PABLO DIABLO 2016-02-08 10:57
Huge military buildup = a sign of an empire in decline.
0 # Anarchist 23 2016-02-08 12:54
The Super Bowl: 'It's a prison, Neo, a prison for your mind' Who feels the long shadow of Nazi society closing in around us?
+4 # joannys 2016-02-08 13:03
The power of our military-indust rial complex is much scarier to me than any foreign threat. They are going to bankrupt us. Then again with more than 100 military bases around the world, they have created so many enemies for us. It's no wonder people throughout the world think we are the world's most dangerous country. We hardly ever are able to give peace a chance. What if we would put our energy into peace efforts instead of lining the pocket of the war profiteers? Just follow the money as with almost anything in the U. S. Who's making money? And they have made so much money in the past 15 years that they can continue to lobby for more war. Are we a hopeless nation?
-1 # librarian1984 2016-02-08 14:21
Wouldn't it be amazing if the next president went on tv and said "I'm disbanding the military. We will keep a ready force proportional to our military risk assessment and the rest will be phased out -- the weapons destroyed, not resold, and the veterans put to work in infrastructure and goodwill projects around the world. I've determined that if we do this we can afford every other program to increase each citizen's quality of life to be even better than Sweden, with free health care and education as long as you want, a lively arts program, a thriving trades community and full employment."

That person would be dead before they got back to the Oval Office.
0 # PaulK 2016-02-08 19:32
I read that the military paid the NFL $10 million for promotional considerations.

Perhaps we should think of the NFL as a giant military advertising campaign for IED-created traumatic brain injuries. "This is your brain. This is your brain after the NFL."

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