Midway through the third quarter of last night’s Monday Night Football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts in Charlotte, two fans used climbing gear to rappel down the upper deck of Bank of America Stadium. It was initially unclear what their motive was as they slowly lowered themselves down towards the fans below. When they were approximately halfway down, they unwrapped a large banner that read “BOA Dump Dominion” and links to a website. The banner referred to Dominion North Carolina Power, a company supported by Bank of America. The website says, “We're calling on Bank of America to stop financing Dominion Resources and its dirty [liquefied natural gas] project at Cove Point, [Maryland].”
The identities of the people involved are not known at the time of this writing, but it is sufficed to say they are activists protesting Bank of America’s role in financing the planned liquefied natural gas export facility in Cove Point, Maryland. But the message of the banner risks being overlooked during Tuesday morning water-cooler discussions that will certainly focus on how reckless the protesters were for endangering the lives of people sitting in the lower deck. The protesters will also be criticized for choosing an unrelated event—a Monday Night Football game—to make a political point. If you have a political cause and want to get a point across, the argument will be, a football game is no place for it.
The water-cooler talk will then shift to the football game and how the Colts nearly pulled out a come-from-behind victory in overtime against the Panthers. We can hope, however, that some of the 70,000 people in attendance for the game and some of the millions of viewers at home will take the time to investigate Bank of America’s role in financing fracking projects in Maryland and around the country. I was certainly unaware of it before tonight.
The two activists were immediately arrested after being lift up, and they will undoubtedly face public scrutiny, so the question has to be asked: was their effort worth it? The answer to this question is most certainly, yes. This is because what activists do in the present moment, while extremely important, sometimes extravagant, and almost always bewildering to anyone not paying attention, may not have its intended effect until much later in history, sometimes years later. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat could have been seen as an irrational action that did nothing but disrupt bus route, but this “meaningless” incident set in motion a serious of events—boycotts, rallies, Supreme Court ruling—that lead to the end segregated busing. It helped spread awareness of the harsh conditions black were experiencing under Jim Crow.
Tonight’s action is similar to an incident that began in July when activists rappelled off the St. Johns Bridge in Oregon for forty hours to block a ship as it embarked for the Alaskan Arctic to begin drilling for oil and natural gas. These events and many more around the nation and the world bring attention to very important issues we are up against in the 21st century, including offshore drilling and fracking.
A lot will be written about tonight’s event, and rightfully so, but I want to turn to the NFL. As state above, there will be a lot of water-cooler discussions about why protesters choose an NFL game to make a political point. What does the NFL have to do with Bank of America or fracking? To answer this, I want to remind everyone that the NFL attaches itself to a political agenda every single week through shameless propaganda for the US military.
Concealed under the headline-grabbing story of deflategate and Tom Brady’s subsequent suspension, it was reported in May that the NFL received 5.4 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Defense between 2011 and 2014. Fourteen teams accepted money to salute war heroes through various advertisements and promotions. This is all part of the Pentagon’s attempt to permanent war propaganda into every aspect of American life. The message is obvious: football and militarism are one and the same. If you love your favorite football team, you love America.
This is nothing new. In his 2004 book, Superpatriots, Michael Parenti reminds us that patriotism attaches itself to places is does not belong, such as religion, schools and consumerism. But the NFL’s blatant hypocrisy should be pointed out. Instead of making authentic gestures of gratitude toward men and women in the armed forces, team owners choose to line their pockets with cash. Taking dole outs of taxpayer money is indicative of the NFL’s win-at-all-cost mentality—which has nothing to do with winning football games and everything to do with making as much money as possible. The league totals around $10 billion in annual revenues, and commissioner, Roger Goodell, made $44 million dollars in 2012. The basic pay for soldiers and officers pales in comparison.
The NFL loves America so much that it has not paid taxes in its 70 year history. While individual teams pay taxes, the league is recognized as a trade association, which exempts it from paying income tax. The NFL has reportedly changed this for the 2015 fiscal year—but not out of love for its country. Public criticism from fans and even U.S. congressmen over its “nonprofit” status has been bad for publicity. In a memo sent to team owners, Goodell said being nonexempt was a “distraction.” It also means that the league will no longer have to reveal how much money Goodell and other top executives make. The NFL does not suddenly want to pay taxes because of its devotion for America.
Force feeding children military propaganda during sporting events has a profound effect, otherwise the Pentagon wouldn’t do it. This is especially true for 18-24 year old who may be economically disenfranchised and have very few options in life.
Halftime salutes and jumbotron videos create military fanaticism and blind devotion of war. The patriotic message is gross: If we truly love our country, we should have a football in one hand and a machine gun in the other. This way of thinking is a disease. It creates an “us versus them” mentality, and it divides the world into divisions and subdivisions. “Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot,” writes Emma Goldman in Patriotism: A Menace to Liberty. “It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.”
This makes dissent and meaningful debate difficult. It gives Washington needed support to do whatever it wants with no repercussions or pushback from the people. It breeds a citizenry willing to summit to the actions of the state. And it says nothing of a murderous U.S foreign policy or what the government is doing in our name.
There are certainly resemblances between football and war, such as hypermasculinity and traumatic brain injuries, but it is egregious to think they are anything but two very distinct things. One is a game played by children, and the other is foolish endeavor with no intelligent reason for existence. Far too many people see each one as a game.
Football and war are different, but the NFL and the Department of Defense have plenty in common. Each operates on lies and cover-ups to protect their image. Each requires a fan base that cares little for its destructive nature. Each sees Redskins as something to be conquered. Are we surprised they are in bed together?
The NFL is a willing participant in all kinds of propaganda, and so is the NCAA. Arizona State University football players used ‘Pat Tillman’ military-themed sports uniforms during last Thursday’s game against Oregon. Dave Zirin points out that, “They did not choose the words that Pat Tillman said when he was sent on multiple Ranger missions in Iraq: “This war is so fucking illegal.”’ Their message is clear: football and war go together.
After tonight, and because the NFL and NCAA don’t mind attaching unrelated political issues to their games, it looks like football might be a great place to conduct protests and rallies. Perhaps, we can get a giant peace flag to cover entire fields.