Monday, November 11, 2013

Sports Salute to Service

Over this Veterans Day weekend, the NCAA and the NFL made major efforts to have a Salute to Service for those men and women who serve to defend our freedom. 

This year the NCAA held the Armed Forces Classic basketball game in at Camp Humphreys Army base in  Pyeogtaek, South Korea where the 19th ranked Oregon Ducks beat the Georgetown Hoyas 82-75 before a crowd of hundreds of soldiers.  

Both teams wore special camouflage uniforms.  In lieu of having their names emblazoned on the back of their jerseys, the Oregon Duck players IDs  read "USA"  and the backs of the Georgetown Hoya jerseys had mottoes like "Courage", "Integrity" and "Respect.    The coaches of both teams wore combat boots and military styled cargo pants.

Oregon (light camo) playing against Georgtown (dark camo) at Camp Humphrey Army Base in Pyeogtaek, South Korea

Many NCAA football teams made efforts to give a Salute to Service.   There is controversy attached to the Northwestern University Wildcat football special uniforms. The Wildcats intend to honor the Wounded Warrior Project during their November 16th game against the Michigan Wolverines by abandoning their regular purple and white garb and donning uniforms flag inspired uniforms. 

 Under Armor tried to further stylize this equipment by having red accents on the patriotic design to give it a rough, worn out look.  After the game, these uniforms will be auctioned for charity. But some are seeing red as the Wounded Warrior Wildcat uniforms have red splotches on the helmet, sock and cleats so these design elements can be interpreted as blood. That is an ugly connotation for something that is intended to honor and support the Wounded Warrior Project

The NFL has nearly a half century of working with the USO to support our military men and women in uniform.  During the 2013 season,  the NFL has designed 32 games throughout November as Salute to Service games where the NFL will donate $100 per point scored to each of its three military related charities, the Pat Tillman Foundation, the USO, and the Wounded Warrior Project.  In 2012, the NFL donated nearly $800,000 as a result of the Salute to Service campaign. 

During these games, players use special footballs, gloves, patches, hats, sweatshirts and camouflage towels.  All of these Salute to Service game worn merchandise will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the aforementioned non-profits.

There are many different Salutes to Service at NFL stadia.  During the Salute to Service games, all of the Field Goal posts had camouflage padding. In Green Bay, Lambeau Field fans used cards to thank those who served with a card stunt during the National Anthem. 

The Packer half time featured all veteran parachute teams landing in the middle of Lambeau Field. Similar sorts of celebrations will occur for the Monday Night Football game in Tampa Bay, which is in the shadows of MacDill Air Force Base and United States Central Command. 

Pat Tillman as Army Ranger
Kevin Blackistone
This sort of patriotic appeal and honoring must drive outspoken ESPN sports commentator Kevin Blackistone crazy, as he has repeatedly chastised sports teams for playing the National Anthem and honoring Pat Tillman (an NFL player who left pro ball to serve as an Army Ranger and died in a friendly fire incident).  While it is unclear how much money will be raised by these fundraising auctions, it is laudable to try to honor and serve those servicemen who sacrifice for us.  However the photo from the Pittsburgh Steeler's Salute to Service shows the poignancy of such tributes. 

A recent book entitled "The War on Football"  points out that many of the traits which are esteemed in football are the same characteristics inculcated in military training. Moreover, sports are an important connection with home for military members and their families.

 So in a society obsessed with celebrity, it is good to see organized efforts to offer a Salute to Service, and honor the virtues of service, teamwork, selflessness and courage.

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