I can remember lying on my bed with a crumpled up piece of paper in my hand and throwing it at the wall while, in my mind, the announcer’s voice carried on: “It’s a long drive to right field… Furillo is going back, back, back… He leaps! He’s got it!” And I would, of course, catch the paper as it bounced off that wall. It was perhaps the World Series year of 1955. The outfielder was Carl “the Reading Rifle” Furillo. His team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, was also my team until, in one of the tragedies of my young life, they absconded for Los Angeles. In those years, I dreamed endlessly about scooping up balls at second base with the dexterity of Jackie Robinson or at shortstop with the speed of Pee Wee Reese, even as, on any actual ball field, I didn’t dare bend down far enough lest the ball bounce up and hit my chin, and so regularly watched it roll past me into the outfield. Furillo’s camping grounds, right field, was where I so often ended up, even though I could never judge whether a fly ball was short or long and reflexively broke toward the infield as it came off the bat, often with sad consequences.
What kid of that era and those that followed, like TomDispatch regular William Astore, can’t tell such tales of imagined prowess in the world of fandom versus real life on the field. But as Astore points out today, the very nature of the sports experience is now changing. Though professional sports in my childhood (the Korean War years) and my youth (the Vietnam War years) had next to nothing to do with the U.S. military, today, in a country that I’ve regularly described as being “unmade by war,” the worlds of professional sports and youthful dreams about it are both being eerily militarized. Stranger yet, as with our forever (yet curiously forgotten) wars of this century, that process of militarization is getting next to no attention here, even as sports hits the political headlines almost daily and is a constant focus of attention from the White House on down. Football, in particular, is regularly in those headlines as (mostly black) players are endlessly accused of taking a knee to diss the flag, the National Anthem, and the troops (none of which is actually true), while that flag, that anthem, and those troops are, in fact, being grotesquely misused to create a miasma of kneejerk patriotism. But let Astore tell you more.