Last year it was a novelty. Michigan State and North Carolina dressed up in faux camouflage uniforms and ran around on the slick deck of an aircraft carrier trying not to blow their knees out. It was an interesting game, but not in a good way. The season was new. The play was out of sync. The conditions weren’t that great. And the spectacle was a bit much.
But everybody watched, which means a lot of money was made. And so, we’re doing it again, in triplicate.
As a sports fan, I’ve never been a big fan of the marriage of sports and the military. Sports are a distraction from life. It’s all about caring very deeply for something that doesn’t matter. The military is the exact opposite of that. It’s very serious. And it matters. Combining it with sports only serves to give false import to the sport, and to give false levity to the military.
If you want the reality of sports and the military, there’s another event this weekend. It’s the All Military Classic in Charleston, SC, which features Army, Air Force, the Citadel and VMI. And – just like last season – very few people will pay attention and it won’t be televised. Hell, I know plenty of hardcore basketball who don’t even know it exists.
But since my grandfather played collegiately for Army I have a soft spot for this sort of thing.
And I’m bothered by the juxtaposition between the games on the aircraft carriers and the games played in the All Military Classic. The former are full of pageantry. They’re played by the sports elite players, and to dress it up for the audience the event producers surround them with the decorations of war. There will be made-for-tv meetings between the players and actual soldiers. There will be the impressive machinery. There will be the full import of the military.
And the other games – the academy games - are played by student-athletes who are on their way to becoming one of those actual soldiers. Many of them are going to face the realities of war. But since they’re not playing basketball at the highest level very few sports fans care.
And I’ll be honest. I’ll watch the carrier games. And I’ll do my best to ignore the location and the uniforms and just see the game. But I know it will sneak in there. I know that my mind will chase that thought that these players who are competing on the deck of a carrier, these players who are clad in uniforms inspired by combat – that these players won’t ever be in harm’s way. Barring a statistical anomaly they’ll be able to play basketball with their own children. They’ll be able to play basketball with their grandchildren. But the players who are toiling in relative anonymity might not get that same gift.
Harris Rogner (1914-1951)