Nationalism and Sport
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Nationalism and Sport
Running head: NATIONALISM AND SPORT 1
Nationalism and Sport
Anthony Armfield, Christopher Castro, and Nathan Denby
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 2
This paper aims to understand the ways fans interpret sporting events when combined
with nationalistic displays in the United States following September 11th
, 2001. Our
mixed methods study leveraged Goffman’s concept of impression management,
integrated with symbolic interaction theory, to explore these understandings of how
patriotism is woven into sports through analysis of spectator’s perceptions of nationalistic
displays in professional sport. The spectators interviewed expressed complex and
differing understandings of patriotism and its normalized place in sport post-9/11.
Positive and negative perceptions of patriotic displays did not correlate to age, gender, or
geographic location. Perception and interpretation of nationalistic symbols presented
within the sport context did relate to individual backgrounds and the previous meanings
assigned to familiar symbols in their lives. All participants observed a dramatic increase
in, and content modification of, nationalistic displays in sport post-9/11. Substantial
evidence of impression management was uncovered detailing the U.S. Department of
Defense’s paid patriotism collaboration with American professional sports organizations.
Keywords: sport, nationalism, hypermasculinity, 9/11, paid patriotism
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 3
Nationalism and Sport
Pre-world war, Americans could attend sporting events without being exposed to
underlying nationalistic ideals. However, nationalistic rhetoric changed when America
entered World War I; The Star Spangled Banner was played for the first time at
Chicago’s Comiskey Park during the 7th
inning stretch of game one of the 1918 World
Series (Leepson, 2006). Today, nationalistic images at sporting events are commonplace
and have expanded from songs to military troop formations, aircraft formation fly overs,
firework shows, field-sized American flags, and camouflaged team jerseys created
exclusively for military appreciation nights. This nationalistic presence is prevalent in
many major sports and can be further influenced by current events. For example, in
memory of 128 civilians killed three days earlier, in the 2015 Paris massacre, the French
flag was paraded around the playing field by Seattle Seahawks’ defensive end Cliff Avril,
before the November 15th
game. While mainstream media has delved into the effects of
9/11, and other scholarly articles (Bertrand, 2015; Burney, 2002; Butterworth, 2008;
Carter & Cox, 2011; Falcous & Silk, 2005; Flake, 2015; Giroux, 2002; Giroux, 2004;
Johnson, 2002; Kusz, 2007; Lyons, 2003; McKay, 1991; Stempel, 2006) have examined
patriotic sports displays in the United States, there is little theoretical analysis of how
fans perceive nationalism in sport post-9/11.
In this paper we aim to understand how fans interpret nationalistic displays when
combined with professional sporting events in the United States following September
, 2001. The purpose of this study is to determine to what extent nationalistic displays
and presentations at sporting events are normalized since 9/11. Our investigation uses
Mead’s theory of symbolic interaction to understand spectator perceptions of patriotic
symbols woven into sport events and Goffman’s concept of impression management is
applied to understand the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) as an actor/director at the
intersection of nationalistic displays and professional sport.
We begin with an overview of professional sport in America, the origins of
patriotism, and how they were ultimately combined. Next we provide examples of
nationalism in sports to set the context. This section is followed by our theoretical
framework and methods used. Finally, we present our findings and discussion. We
approached this study with mixed methods using descriptive statistics to understand the
U.S. Government’s role as a director managing impressions of hypermasculine
nationalistic displays and semi-structured interviews to understand how spectators
perceived those displays during sporting events in the United States. The study concludes
with implications and new areas that need to be further researched.
Nationalism and Sport: Setting the Agenda
Nationalism and American sport have coincided throughout history and has
evolved in various forms. Since the terrorist attacks on September 11th
hypermasculine nationalistic displays in sport have dramatically increased. We explored
the ways fans interpret these evolved patriotic displays at sporting events. This study will
use Goffman’s concept of impression management integrated with symbolic interaction
theory to explore these understandings (Maltby, 2012). Impression management’s
dramaturgic framework is suitable for this study when viewing the DOD as a
director/actor managing its front stage performance, the ‘war on terror,’ in order to
understand their role in shaping public perception of their organization at professional
sporting events, which included over $8M dollars in payments to multiple professional
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sport organizations to produce hypermasculine nationalistic displays during games and
matches (Bertrand, 2015).
According to the Constitution, prior to the Civil War amendments, being an
American was a matter of consent. Anyone who agreed to obey the law, pay taxes, and
serve in the military if called upon, was considered an American. However, various
groups, such as the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and the Women’s Relief Corp
(WRC), insisted upon a narrower and/or more militant version of patriotism. O'Leary
(1999) traces half a century of conflict over the meaning of patriotism following the Civil
War. The GAR was responsible for promoting the daily recital of the “Pledge of
Allegiance,” while the WRC lobbied to make Memorial Day a national holiday. The
National Education Association debated the best ways of instilling patriotic dedication in
immigrant children. Unlike other countries, the U. S. government played virtually no role
in developing a sense of patriotism until World War I (McClymer, 2002). Prior to WWI,
there was no established church, national education system, or national anthem
throughout the nineteenth century.
These groups moved into the ‘nationalist vacuum’ and created, in a sense,
artificial American patriotism. O’Leary emphasizes it was not smooth or coordinated, the
GAR wrestled with what should be the place of African Americans while the WRC was
critical of versions of patriotism that emphasized military glory. Lyons (2003) notes in
It was not until World War I, when the government joined forces with right-wing
organizations and vigilante groups, that a racially exclusive, culturally conformist,
militaristic patriotism finally triumphed over more progressive, egalitarian visions
of the nation. (p. 381)
Wilson’s Administration, Fascism, and White America
Three major ideological currents stand out within U.S. right-wing nationalist
movements of the twentieth century: racial nationalism, business nationalism, and cold
war nationalism (Martinez, Meyer, Carter, West, Sanchez, & Walker, 2012). McClymer
(2002) states, as the U.S. entered World War I, the Wilson administration took control of
and censored the foreign-language press. They established the Committee on Public
Information to bring patriotism into focus. They sent “Four Minute Men” with canned
speeches into movie theatres across the country; organized “I Am an American Day”
parades in major cities for July 4th
, 1918. The Sedition Act of 1918, which was truly
amendments to the Espionage Act of 1917, outlawed dissent over war policy and, in
general, the administration moved aggressively to “settle” previously open questions
about patriotic Americanism – which appears to resemble Fascism. The Espionage Act is
still enforced today (e.g. National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, Edward
Snowden, was charged under this 1917 law). The Eighteenth Amendment (prohibition) to
the Constitution and the Immigration Act of 1918 sought the same end: America would
uphold Protestant values (no alcohol) and be a land of free whites.
Racial nationalism held that the United States was a nation of and for white
people (i.e., those people of exclusively European descent). In this view, America's
national health required the defense of white people's physical and cultural purity against
racial pollution, and the subjugation, expulsion, or annihilation of inferior non-European
peoples (Martinez et al., 2012, p. 304). Racial nationalism was often part of expansionist
ideology, and often portrayed the United States as a Christian nation sanctioned by God.
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These themes came together in the nineteenth-century doctrine of Manifest Destiny
(Saxton, 1990) encompassing:
•American exceptionalism: the special virtues of the American people and their
•America's mission to expand west and remake the west in the image of the
agricultural colonies, and
•An irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty
Racial nationalism was rooted in the system of racial oppression that originated in
the seventeenth century with the first expulsions and mass killings of American Indians
and the enslavement of African people (Martinez et al., 2012). Lyons (2003) states that
this system was periodically changed (e.g. the abolition of slavery) but also expanded to
include white dominance over Mexicans, Asians, and other peoples of color, and
remained a central facet of U.S. society. Beginning in the nineteenth century, some
versions of racial nationalism defined the privileged group more narrowly, e.g., as white
Protestants or northern Europeans with attendant belief in meritocracy and ‘white’
American superiority (Martinez et al., 2012).
Sport, Hypermasculinity and Nationalism
Leepson (2006) states there is anecdotal evidence that The Star-Spangled Banner
was played at various sporting events, primarily baseball games, in the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries. The first documented performance of the song being played
at a professional sporting event occurred during World War I, on September 5th
, 1918. It
was played during the 7th
inning stretch of the first game of the World Series between the
Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox being played at Comiskey Park in Chicago. The
Star-Spangled Banner was played before the opening-day game and each World Series
game the following season. It was not until 1942, during World War II, that the Star
Spangled Banner was inaugurated as a ‘pregame tradition’ before every regular season
game (Leepson, 2006). Since then the National Anthem has been played before virtually
every professional —and many collegiate and high school —baseball, football,
basketball, hockey, and soccer contests in this country. This addition to sporting events
has not been met with complete approval. For instance, Miller (1930) stated that, “The
Star-Spangled Banner suggests that patriotism is associated with killing and being killed,
with great noise and clamor, with intense hatreds and fury and violence.”
Jeffords (1989) found that imagery through films and books in the 1980’s
conveyed the message that the Vietnam War was lost because protestors caused the
military to take an insufficiently aggressive stance to winning it. Boose (1993) expands
on Jefford’s analysis, arguing that Vietnam produced a great deal of national anxiety
about inadequate masculinity, which created the rise of hypermasculinity. The Gulf War
was a chance for the nation to regain its lost masculinity after the Vietnam War (e.g.
shock and awe). In response to this masculinity increase and overcompensating for the
1970’s poor treatment of returning Vietnam veterans, the U.S. made a concerted effort to
honor and recognize returning Gulf War veterans in a positive way (Boose, 1993).
A prime example of the effort made by the United States to recognize their
returning veterans, as noted by McKay (1991), is Super Bowl 25’s halftime show. The
halftime show was both U.S. and Disney themed. Mickey Mouse was wearing red, white,
and blue while Minnie Mouse led patriotically dressed cheerleaders onto the field. Young
boys dressed as football players were clad in red, white, and blue carrying small
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American flags. Then a young boy on stage started to sing the chorus of “Wind Beneath
my Wings,” the theme song of the movie Beaches, as footage of U.S. troops in the Gulf
was played in the background. Later, Cub Scouts emerged with large American flags
followed by veterans’ children. They were treated as VIP guests, being brought onto the
field holding small American flags. Before “God Bless America” was played during the
halftime show, President Bush appeared on the big screen with his wife presenting a
prerecorded message thanking the children and everyone who was deployed for our
country. While “God Bless America” played, some of the children lay down on the field
spelling out the letters ‘USA’ (McKay 1991). McKay highlighted that Americans use
sports metaphors for war and vice versa which is more obvious today (e.g. the robotic
football warrior mascots of the Fox Sports network). This patriotic halftime show was not
just aired in the U.S. but it aired in every country broadcasting Super Bowl 25. Today’s
resurgence of patriotism has expanded to include military aircraft formation flyovers and
military appreciation nights where players wear specially designed camouflaged uniforms
Hypermasculinity Transforms into White Supreme Masculinity
Kusz (2007) argues that white supreme masculinity became more important after
9/11. President George W. Bush wanted men to rise up and fight his war on terror. He
used a rhetoric that implied if you did not support the war you were siding with the
terrorists, or you were unpatriotic. 9/11 reenergized white cultural nationalism for the
United States. White cultural nationalism is an “average” white male with “traditional”
U.S. values like individualism, freedom, and meritocracy. In response, the immensely
public grief of the immediate aftermath featured a forced inward reflection on
Americanism — a reexamination of nationhood at a fundamental level. This inward
reflection was reinforced in President Bush's September 20th address to the U.S.
Congress. His rhetoric defined the enemy and it also fundamentally mandated the internal
(re)constitution of America itself (Johnson, 2002)
They hate what they see right here in this chamber—a democratically elected
government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms—our
freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and
disagree with each other. (p. 216)
Paradoxically, Ehrenreich (2002) posited that when discussing the U.S. attacks on Al
Qaeda in Afghanistan, gender equality became a primary justification for expanded
aggression toward Taliban fundamentalists. For example, it was publicized that one of the
benefits of dumping tons of bombs on Taliban and Al Qaeda targets and installing a pro-
U.S. government, is that Afghan women are now liberated to receive education, and shed
their burkas. This propaganda deflected attention away from the intricate relationship
between war & globalization. The harsh reality is: terrorism is a tool used to maintain
and expand the growth of corporate capitalism, led by the U.S. dollar and backed by U.S.
military might (Chossudovsky, 2005). Specifically, the United States’ war on terror is
critical to its strategic and economic agendas in Central Asia and the Middle East to
conquer new economic frontiers and ultimately establish corporate control over vast oil
reserves (Chossudovsky, 2005). Giroux (2004) has forcefully defined this status quo as:
All embracing militarization of public life that is emerging under the combined
power and control of neo-liberal zealots, religious fanatics, and far right wing
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conservatives but is also contributing to the destruction of a liberal political order
and a growing culture of surveillance, inequality and cynicism. (p. 206)
Burney (2002) observed that post-9/11, the United States media covered the
attacks in a way that would be considered propaganda or indoctrination by any other
nation, but in this case, the U.S. referred to it as patriotism. Further, professional sports
have been platforms upon which patriotism agendas have been furthered. Nationalistic
displays and military presence at sport events serve as a way for the American
exceptionalism narrative to continue. Stempel (2006) summed up this idea when he
Sports are our most explicit and mythologized public spectacles of competition,
power, and domination. Consequently, they are important sites where Americans
are registering, managing, and shaping the complex feelings about their power
position in the post-9/11 world. (p. 82)
Stempel (2006) continued by examining the relationship between sport and war, noting
they have similar social structures, embedded with similar ideals, belief systems,
worldviews, or habitus he calls a common system of “masculinist moral capital.” This
structural family resemblance between sport and war leads to a cognitive-emotional
affinity between a masculine interpretation of sport and a readiness to go to war to defend
one’s national interests and a predisposition to view imperialist wars as opportunities for
heroism and as part of our duty as world leaders. Stempel defines his Masculinist Moral
Capital and the Televised Sport Theory through 6 factors to explain the link between
sport and war, or the support of war:
1. Defining traits of athletes and soldiers: self-discipline, reliance, control, and
2. American ideal that character underlies success.
3. Those possessing character or moral strength are the ones who stand up to
adversaries when the going gets tough.
4. Us versus them. Good vs evil.
5. Nostalgia is cultivated, timeless sport traditions and memories are actively
constructed and highly honored.
6. Virtues of televised sports heroes are the same as those defending our country
(e.g. Pat Tillman).
Stempel’s (2006) most compelling argument is the presentation of findings reported from
a nationally representative survey, which provided strong evidence that level of
involvement in masculinist sports on television is robustly associated with strong feelings
of patriotism and with support for the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Bush
doctrine of preventive attacks. Stempel (2006) interpreted the findings as evidence that
televised masculinist sports constitute a central institution in producing and reproducing
militaristic nationalism, surpassing social class, religion, age, gender, family structure,
and region in explanatory power.
Sport and National Holidays
Lindquist (2006) highlights that the U.S. national identity in sport is also
connected to national holidays like Thanksgiving. From the early 1900s the fusion
between sport and holiday was natural since "both football and the Pilgrim experience
dramatized the importance of adaptability, discipline, cooperation, physical prowess, and
a sense of corporate community.” It is clear to see that even pre-9/11 sports have had a
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strong connection with the national identity. Denzin (2004) states there is a somewhat
familiar place of sport within the promotion of invocations of nation under the agenda of
9/11 America that recognizes that sport is a key symbolic space in the war on the
everyday, the death of people, culture, and truth. Beginning with the 2002 Super Bowl,
Billig (1995) states, this period can be defined as nationalist passion, formed in times of
social disruption and extreme social movements. Giddens (1985) proposed such
circumstances are dominated by the investment of emotional energy in the symbols of
nationhood and in the promise of strong leadership. The national flag became a symbol of
this investment; the cult of the “Star Spangled Banner” led to the flag being so heavily
desired by Americans that it sold out across the nation and reemerged as a waved,
noticed, saluted, and counted symbol of nation (Falcous & Silk, 2005). De Cillia, Reisgel,
and Wodak (1999) believe national narratives do not emerge from nowhere or operate in
a vacuum; rather they are produced, reproduced, and spread by actors (impression
management) in concrete (institutionalized) contexts. The performative aspects of
sporting spectacles have been sites for the assertion and affirmation of particular
discursive constructions of nation, constructions fully grounded and reflective of material
conditions (Hogan, 2003; Real, 1975). According to Healey (1997), the acting out of the
past within contemporary spectacles is a space in which powerful groups can retell
history in line with the present. He noted:
How the past is performed in the present through museums, film, anniversaries,
major sporting events and so on . . . the arenas in which social memory is acted
out, performed, or demonstrated; in between moments when we cease to live in
time and space in order to reflect on, or be trained in, or entertained by something
of our historical (in)authenticity, our being-in-history. (p. 5)
An example of this was Fox Television's 2002 Super Bowl pregame show, which was
based around the narrative, “Hope, Heroes and Homeland”—a self-examining, self-
referential, existential narrative of the American nation in the wake of an ontological
social and historical disruption (Giroux, 2002) wrought by 9/11.
Butterworth (2008) stated “Fox television’s Super Bowl ‘Declaration of
Independence’ is a troubling reminder of the defined construction of citizenship in
contemporary America” (p. 318) and may have yielded sport culture’s most concise
rhetorical endorsement of the war on terrorism. Butterworth also discusses how public
sporting events are a platform for U.S. civil religion and nationalism. The Declaration of
Independence is the cornerstone of U.S. civil religion (Bellah, 1969). The 2008 Super
Bowl showed current and past NFL players reading passages from the Declaration of
Independence. The scenes of the video were prerecorded at select locations such as
Ground Zero in New York, Independence Hall in Philadelphia and on a naval aircraft
carrier surrounded by members of the U.S. Navy. The camera focused on the sky
symbolizing a higher power watching over the country. Actors portrayed Thomas
Jefferson, John Hancock, and Ben Franklin (Butterworth, 2008). The video ended with
Don Shula, Roger Staubach, and Michael Strahan declaring that they were Americans
(Butterworth, 2008). The depiction of the Declaration of Independence was dedicated to
all the men and women of the U.S. armed forces. Since the U.S. was at war when Fox
was doing their dedication to the troops and it was centrally themed around the armed
forces it was suggested as an endorsement for the war on terror (Butterworth, 2008).
Identifying as an American you are honoring a history of violence and military
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aggression. Butterworth (2008) said, “To exclaim “I am an American” in the midst of a
highly problematic war mandates a more critical reflection on who Americans can, and
should, be” (p. 322).
Symbolic interaction theory assumes a subjectivist, sociological position, concentrating
on the individual’s point of view as well as the situational context in which collective
action is constructed (Lal, 1995). Mead (1962), believed that mind and ego are products
of society which allows people to create order and meaning from symbols in daily
contexts. Building upon Mead’s work, using dramaturgical language, Goffman (1959)
highlighted the “actor’s” point of view in his concept of impression management using
the metaphor of a theatrical performance as it pertains to one’s self in everyday life.
Every day persons “present” themselves to others in social interactions. He labels as a
"performance" all of a man's/woman’s/organization’s activity that influences their
"audience" on a given occasion (e.g. hypermasculine nationalistic displays in sport). If
the dramatic action is at all complex, it must be performed by a "team" which is
controlled by a "director" (e.g. the minister coordinates the wedding ceremony; the
umpire coordinates the action at a baseball game). There is usually a division of labor
among other members of the team (e.g. Enlisted and Officer ranks of military services).
Each character (or organization) holds a mask to his/her face whenever he/she expresses
the publically acceptable version of his/her inner self; in special situations and in
moments of great crisis the character abandons his/her virtually reflexive efforts at
dissimulation and uncovers his face (Goffman, 1959). Masks are arrested expressions and
admirable echoes of feeling, at once faithful, discreet, and superlative. Words and images
are like shells, no less integral parts of nature than are the substances they cover, but
better addressed to the eye and more open to observation (Santayana, 1922, p.131).
Goffman (1959) conceptualizes the “routine” (performance) is usually perfected
"backstage," which is inaccessible to the audience; it is performed in a "front stage"
region. Goffman (1959) discusses the advantages of manipulating the initial impressions
one conveys of oneself. Only a limited number of facts can be gleaned about a person
during a particular encounter. In responding to him/her others are usually guided by the
cues provided by his/her styles of expression, the content of his/her conversation, and
his/her social characteristics, such as his/her generation and occupation. It is obviously to
an actor’s advantage to limit the cues to those which present him/her in a favorable light.
Other people will then think well of him/her and will act voluntarily in accordance with
his wishes (Goffman, 1959). We are applying this concept to understand the DOD’s
“performance” of the “war on terrorism.” Goffman (1959) treats the self—that persistent
theme which links, with all their differences, the assertions of Nietzsche, Mead, Sullivan
and Freud—in the perspective of the stage. Goffman (1959) excludes action groups, he
points out, since they use force or bargaining power, not dramaturgical cooperation which
is aimed at sustaining a particular definition of a situation. To implement its goal a team
must have certain characteristics. It must be completely united once it begins to act; any
disagreement in public tends to destroy the intended definition of the situation (e.g.
hypermasculine nationalistic displays in sport). Even when the members have had
reservations about the definition, everyone pretends that he/she arrived independently at
the unanimous position. In authoritarian organizations the superordinates try to avoid any
signs of disrespecting one another and to maintain a show of always being right (e.g.
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parents strive to act in unison in their relationships with their children; management
presents a united front to the employees; military officers to enlisted men.) Goffman
(1959) has many other revealing observations about teams: how they dramatize their
work; how they keep secret the information that is incompatible with their public images;
how they engage in collusive derogation of their audiences during performances; how
they use spies to ferret out the secrets of competing teams; how they maintain the loyalty
of team members (e.g. public perceptions of military organizations). Goffman also
emphasizes the duplicity in self-presentation: that virtually every legitimate vocation and
relationship entails concealed practices which are incompatible with fostered
impressions; that each person/organization checks the impressions conveyed by other
people in order to avoid being led astray or to gather ammunition for purposes of
exploitation. Goffman (1959) refers to the repertoire of symbols available to us on
different occasions to express our projected definition of the situation through which we
can impress others, or, by their response, eventually judge them. In his/her capacity as
audience a person may be taken in by the routine he/she performs in collusive action with
other participants. For the purpose of the present study, we categorize the DOD as the
‘actor/director’ who attempts to use their various symbols to express their projected
definition of the the war on terror in order to impress their reality upon spectators.
Goffman (1959) observes how the pillars of society tilt; there is a crucial discrepancy
between our all-too-human selves and our socialized selves. What we are and what we
seem are both constituted in society. The terms in which we tend to experience fake,
discrepancy, or insincerity vary, society is a many-splendored and a many-layered thing.
As we act, we do face novel situations and are forced to improvise and create. Life and
plays have foreseeable ends, many situations in life do not (Goffman, 1959).
Furthermore, we employ a symbolic interactionist lens to help us understand how the
spectator develops their identity and feelings of nationalism toward the United States
based upon presentations of the repertoire of symbols (nationalistic images and
patriotism) showcased in the sporting context.
Mead (1962) stresses that the meanings of social objects can always be interpreted
differently because of the actor’s ability to think, this is known as the internal
conversation of gestures. Actors view the world in terms of social objects, or anything the
actor can name. These objects can be physical (a soldier), conceptual (patriotism), or
emotional (love and hate) (Higham, 1984). Blumer (1969) elucidates the theory of
symbolic interaction into three basic points: humans develop their attitudes towards
objects according to the way in which they were presented, that these meanings are
inferred based off of previous socialization, and can change meanings within an
Higham (1984, p. xi) helps us understand how the acquisition of culture, and prior
interaction, help play a crucial role in the actor’s interpretations and actions toward social
objects. Through past cultural experiences actors can begin to uncover a pattern of
symbolic meanings. Lal (1990) explains how our language and communication can help
create these interpretations:
Communication, and especially language, is central to ongoing group life because it
enables shared understandings to exist between members of a group as well as
transmitting these intergenerationally, which in turn makes possibile collective
action—that is, socially controlled action. (p. 33)
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This may explain how hypermasculine nationailistic displays at sporting events have
become normalized: because as time passes they become more normal and open to less
Using the framework of symbolic interaction we search to understand what
spectators of sporting events think, feel, and intepret while experiencing hypermasculine
nationalistic displays in sport.
Employing mixed methods, we used descriptive statistics to understand the
DOD’s role as a director defining the war on terrorism and managing impressions
through hypermasculine nationalistic displays and semi-structured interviews to
understand how spectators perceived those displays during sporting events post-9/11.
Using semi-structured interviews allowed us to glean perceptions and deeper
understandings (Jones, 2015) of spectator’s thoughts and feelings following nationalistic
displays in sport post-9/11. The interview criteria used was that participants must have
experienced some form of nationalistic display within a sporting event, and participants
must have experienced 15 games or more in the past 15 years to be included in the study.
We also used descriptive statistics quantitatively to data mine information explaning
DOD spending for nationalistic displays at NFL games.
We used convenience sampling, gaining access to these participants through our
personal networks. One participant interviewed was a 25-year-old male from Seattle
Washington who has attended mostly Seattle Mariner and Washington State University
Football games. Our second participant was a 25-year-old male college student from
Seattle, Washington. Primary games attended were Seattle Sounders and University of
Washington soccer matches, secondarily he attended Seattle Mariners’ games. The last
participant was an 82-year-old male army veteran who has been divorced. He is a
resident of Houston, Texas and is a fan of the Houston Texans, Astros, Rockets, and the
former Houston Oilers. Using a semi-structured interview guide (Jones, 2015), our
interviews lasted 30 minutes to one hour. All interviews were transcribed and sent to the
participants to approve, make changes, or clarify prior to inclusion in the study. In order
to protect the privacy of the participants their full names were not used and the
pseudonyms Kevin, Brett and Robbie were given. We proceeded with the interview in six
phases. First we presented images of patriotic displays to set the context about the types
of displays within sport settings we were going to discuss. Next we asked participants
about their experiences and perceptions of 9/11 and followed up with questions regarding
their perceptions and feelings towards the U.S. Military and nationalism in general. Then
we asked questions such as why is there a desire to combine sporting events with
patriotic events and why is there an association between nationalism and American sport.
We followed up with questions to ascertain whether they perceived a conscious effort by
the military to manage perceptions. Finally, we asked about how they thought that
nationalism at sporting events has changed since September 11th
, 2001 and whether or
not these patriotic displays are necessary or even desirable.
Analysis was conducted through Mead’s sociological interactionism lens and
Goffman’s concept of impression management, lenses that have been employed in prior
literature (Duda, Ntoumanis, & Vazou, 2005; Côté, Deakin, & Fraser-Thomas, 2008;
Bray, Carron, Eys, & Loughead, 2009). First, we separated interview transcripts into
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‘meaning units’ that is, manageable pieces of text containing one unique point or theme
(Côté and Salmela 1994) by employing open coding techniques and documenting notes in
the margins highlighting important concepts (Jones, 2015). To categorize each meaning
unit, codes were generated (Côté and Salmela 1994). A new code was generated anytime
a meaning unit was identified and could not be aligned with already created categorical
codes. Separating text into meaning units was a highly iterative process in which we read
and re-read the transcripts several times to code and re-code text. The text was
continuously coded until data saturation was reached, that is, no new meaning units could
be identified or existing meaning units could not be separated into multiple meaning
Tags were then subjected to further refinement by grouping-related codes into
hierarchal categories. We reviewed the meaning units that corresponded to each code to
ensure we accurately represented codes when merging them into categories. After the
completion of that process, we analyzed the content of each category and described the
content in terms of groups that characterized the similarities and uniqueness of each
category. Guided by Goffman’s concept and Mead’s theory, we generated start codes of
impression management, symbolic interaction, and patriotism. We then used axial coding
where we further developed topics that were raised within these categories (Jones, 2015).
We reorganized topics as well as identified data that did not fit our research criteria
In order to draw conclusions from our data we charted codes, displaying
relationships, and which codes challenged or supported our research (Jones, 2015).
Finally, through selective coding we created a list with our main themes and sub themes
followed by an example from our literature that illustrated what we learned really well.
Data validation of the interpretations was achieved through saturation, participant review
and approval, identifying data that contradicted our research, and reflexivity.
USASpending.gov provides open source data on U.S. Government spending and
contracts. We utilized simple Boolean search logic to find contracts, from 2008 to 2015,
issued between the DOD and the National Football League (NFL). We examined the
contents of each contract document and, using descriptive statistics, we compiled seven
years of data into an excel spreadsheet to summarize and describe the contents in an
easily understandable format that allowed us to collect pertinent facts.
Bertrand (2015) reported the Pentagon paid $5.4M dollars to the NFL for ‘salute
to troops’ activities. Senator John McCain (2015, p.10) of Arizona, a former aviator and
prisoner of war, noted that the Army National Guard spent $49M on professional sports
advertising in 2014 while facing a $101M salary funds deficit which delayed critical
drills for the Nebraska and Iowa Guards when they could not pay soldiers. The largest
single expenditures uncovered were a $32M sponsorship of NASCAR driver, Dale
Earnhardt Jr., and a $12.7M sponsorship of Indy driver, Graham Rahal. The NFL, MLB,
NBA, and WNBA received $4.2M. Under the NFL partnerships, state National Guard
organizations paid NFL teams to have players visit local high schools, honor local
coaches, in-stadium advertising, game-day presence, and non-game day use of team
facilities. A $225,000 deal between the New England Patriots and the Massachusetts and
New Hampshire National Guard included the “True Patriot” program where the team
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 13
recognized members of the National Guard during half-time at home games. We
confirmed $8.2M in expenditures to 18 NFL teams between 2008 and 2015. (Appendix A
details all contractual information available from 2008 to 2015.)
Senator McCain (2015, p.11) assumes the National Guard doesn’t receive
significant return-on-investment from these deals due to the lack of evidence to validate
their spending. As the National Guard is currently downsizing, McCain criticizes the use
of taxpayer funds to pay for the less tangible benefits of cobranding with billion-dollar
sports leagues. He argues that these funds could be allocated to: specialized training,
force modernization, or other, more directly beneficial recruiting activities. Other
examples of contracts include (Flake 2015):
• $49,000 paid to the Milwaukee Brewers for the Wisconsin Army National
Guard to sponsor each Sunday performance of “God Bless America” during
home games with announcements and logo recognition on the video board
• $20,000 paid to the New York Jets to recognize one to two New Jersey Army
National Guard soldiers as hometown heroes at each home game on the video
board and Coaches Club access for the recognized soldier(s) and three guests
• $1,509 for the LA Galaxy to provide pregame recognition of five high ranking
officers of the Air Force and 100 general admission tickets to that game
Senator Jeff Flake (2015) of Arizona summarized these revelations:
Fans should not be unknowing viewers of paid-marketing campaigns. I am
pleased that the Department of Defense has banned paid patriotism and the NFL
has called on clubs to stop accepting payment for patriotic salutes. Professional
sports teams do a lot of good for our military, but paid patriotism on the
taxpayers’ dime cheapens true displays of patriotism. (p.1)
Notably, all three respondents expressed understanding of the patriotic symbols presented
to them during sports events. They recognized various images presented to them. Themes
of impression management extracted from our interviews included: America, American
pride, September 11th
, patriotic displays, and Pentagon contracting. (See Appendix B for
complete interview transcripts.)
According to Mead, however, humans develop their attitudes towards things
according to the meanings that things propose to them. While participants agreed that the
images were patriotic and represented current displays in professional sports, they had
different attitudes towards these displays; articulating different internal conversations of
gestures (Mead, 1962), based upon differing inferred meanings from previous
Positive feelings generated by symbols:
Brett felt it did not hurt spectators having nationalistic displays and it also
amplified his own American pride while strengthening his respect for the military.
Robbie, a veteran, experienced patriotic pride resulting from his service and the
nationalistic symbols presented.
Symbols showing wounded warriors and amputees were experienced and
perceived in two positive ways: feelings of gratitude for their sacrifice and admiration of
their will to survive.
Robbie referred to the 9/11 attacks as “this generation’s Pearl Harbor,” uniting the
nation, while he viewed Pat Tillman through a positive lens, calling him a “hero.”
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 14
when combining patriotism in sport, a connection between a team and America
results in subconsciously rooting for America. This conjures the emotions felt on
9/11, seeing your country attacked along with its symbol of capitalism (World
Trade Center) and the death of thousands of Americans. I can see where lots of
people were like ‘wow what an American hero’ (Tillman) giving up so much
because he felt responsible to do that. I can see where it was a big deal.
Brett observed a Hypermasculine (over compensating) connection between the
military and sport:
It is a nice place to implement the military aspect of it, when you think about the
military it’s pretty gun-ho, pretty manly to a certain degree. It doesn’t necessarily
fit in with something like ballet as much as it would with a football or baseball
game where everybody is trying to get a little jacked up and they can do that by
bringing out patriotism in everyone.
The government tries to assimilate sport and nationalism in order to exploit the
emotion that is felt for either. If you are a strong patriot, you're excited that your
team is supporting the troops which results in you rooting harder for your team.
The other possibility is that being a fan may make you feel more pride or emotion
for your country if your team supports the troops. Every time we used to hit a
homerun in the Kingdome there was fireworks. It’s all part of celebration. I mean
I guess it could have the undertone of America is great.
Negative feelings generated by symbols:
Kevin acknowledged a negative personal view of America and that sports are a
platform that can help “incite patriotism.” He viewed those symbols and events as
stealing energy from the home team fans.
Robbie reported feeling anger toward exploiting wounded warriors to rekindle feelings of
the 9/11 attacks. Kevin drew a distinction between the 9/11 attacks and the “invasion” of
Pearl Harbor: saying “I would feel more responsibility to defend America, my family,
Robbie was aware of the recent revelations regarding pay for patriotism contracts
and opined strongly,
there is a manufactured connection that has come to light, the Pentagon has let
$4M in contracts with the NFL for support the troops activities and that changes
the spirit of those events drastically, it cheapens it. Now I feel like I’m watching
another commercial instead of a heartfelt salute to our brave men and women –
it’s a goddamn recruiting commercial. Disgraceful is what it is!
Propaganda for US investment in recent wars
The DOD is the ‘director’ who attempts to use various symbols to express the DOD’s
projected definition of the war on terror in order to impress their reality upon spectators.
Goffman (1959) observes how the pillars of society tilt; there is a crucial discrepancy
between our all-too-human selves (DOD’s true reality) and our socialized selves (the
reality the DOD tries to project).
Robbie summarized the DOD’s management of perceptions regarding Pat Tillman:
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 15
they painted Tillman to be a brave hero, dying in combat with the enemy, but
come to find out, he was shot in the back by friendly fire – disgraceful (speaking
of the cover up). I don’t care how you die in service to your country, first
responder or military, it’s still honorable. They should have told the truth and still
treated him as a hero. That’s what should have happened. Some public relations
specialist thought it would reflect poorly on the warfighters accidentally killing
one of their own people but the reality is war is messy, it’s confusing, and
mistakes happen. It takes nothing away from Tillman’s bravery or his dedication
to serve his country, he was the victim of an errant bullet. It didn’t change my
opinion of the soldier but it sure reinforced my perception that the Pentagon says
what they think you want to hear not the truth or what is difficult to hear. What a
PR debacle that was!
Robbie cited one other example of impression management,
They made the same mistake the first time around with Schwarzkopf’s march to
Bagdad, they showed all of the carnage on that highway of death and suddenly
people weren’t as patriotic or supportive, it made people sick. I’m not saying it
shouldn’t have been shown but it certainly created an undesirable effect in public
opinion as well as the coalition partners. Again, some PR person thought it would
reinforce support of the war. They never seem to predict the correct outcome of
their propaganda (‘director’ of impression management).
Chossudovsky’s findings (2005) advocate terrorism is a tool used to maintain and
expand the growth of corporate capitalism, led by the U.S. dollar and backed by U.S.
military might. Robbie’s analysis of impression management can be explained by
communication failures at various levels in the DOD when the executive branch is using
the military as a tool of diplomacy to further its strategic and economic agendas.
Kevin viewed Pat Tillman as a propaganda symbol and as unintelligent for giving up a
successful NFL career to fight and die in a war he did not believe in.
Kevin also noted:
While the military always has those kind of propaganda commercials like “an
army of one” saying they will help build you up and make you a better person.
And that is how I would expect them to market themselves I suppose. I actually
agree to an extent that they do strengthen you mentally and prepare you to be a
better person. Become task oriented and be able to like succeed in a business or
work environment postwar. They create strong individuals but they also destroy
you in the process by stripping you of your individualism and everything that
makes you who you are and they re-socialize you. They basically destroy you to
build you into what they need you to be.
Post-9/11 overt nationalism
Major changes at the intersection of sport and nationalism historically correlate with
military conflicts including a dramatic growth post-9/11 (Maltby, 2012). All three of our
interviewees identified a change in nationalistic displays post-9/11.
Robbie recognized changes in frequency and content of sport’s nationalistic displays:
The frequency of salutes has certainly increased and the inclusion of wounded
warriors paraded around in front of everyone, I don’t remember it being that
Kevin observed a dramatic increase:
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 16
It just shot through the roof, especially right after September 11th
. They were
constantly doing heavily patriotic events at games including speeches, throwing
out the first pitch, and singing the national anthem. All those things were tied to
people that were affected by 9/11 or words were said to the people affected.
Moments of silence. And that can be directly in relation to the biggest trick of
them all: George Bush making us go into Afghanistan after that, he wanted
wholehearted patriotism. He wanted to create that environment that if you're not
flying that flag and loving America then you are a terrorist. That is how it was in
politics after September 11th
, if you weren't in full support of going after the
people who did this with militarization then you were not a patriot, you weren’t
an American, you were viewed as a terrorist yourself. Patriotism was, full throttle,
pushed into the sports environment.
Brett also observed a change after 9/11:
I think definitely right after September 11th
you saw a much higher increase or
influence in people and their patriotic events. Before 9/11 you still had it, but
after, it was a place for everyone to be together, stand there together, and all show
their support at the same time, versus taking to the streets, they could all be in a
stadium together and join in.
With the recent focus on paid patriotism led by Senator McCain our research has
looked to build upon emerging or already pre-existing research. The DOD acted as a
director, managing impressions of the war on terror, through hypermasculine nationalistic
displays to conjure positive feelings towards the war effort and America as a whole. This
included payment from the DOD for nationalistic displays held at sporting events. In
addition, we aimed to understand how these displays or “performances” were perceived
by spectators. To our knowledge, the use of Goffman’s concept of impression
management has not been used in previous investigations.
We discovered that individuals have complex understandings of nationalistic
displays in sport based upon their previous socialization of those symbols: (1) They
understand much of these displays as impression management on the part of the DOD -
thus they are critical on one level. As mentioned in the findings, the way in which Robbie
disapproved of the DOD’s cover up of the circumstances in which Pat Tillman was killed
was viewed as “disgraceful,” a perfect example of a negative viewpoint of impression
management. More specifically, Robbie zeroed in on the DOD’s failure to accurately
predict the outcome of their directive impression management (public relations). (2) But
they still sometimes are moved positively by the displays, at least at the individual level-
and thus complicit in dramaturgical cooperation, aimed at sustaining the DOD’s
particular definition of the war on terrorism. Brett showed this with his interpretation
of patriotism in masculine sports such as football and baseball, two masculine sports and
a sign of strength, over ballet, a more feminine or weak sport. This implies that when
examining hypermasculine nationalistic displays through an impression management lens
spectators have been effected, both positively and negatively but rarely are they affected
in the manor predicted by the director. The evidence uncovered shows that the DOD has
spent millions of dollars and uncalculated man hours directing performances to impart
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 17
their definition of the war on terror but have yet to succeed on a regular basis not to
mention perfect their directing.
The use of Mead’s symbolic interaction theory explains how, through previous
exposure or experience with past events, spectators may interpret patriotic displays in
different ways. Our respondents very clearly demonstrate this theory. Brett and Kevin are
both 25 years old with similar backgrounds and yet have opposite responses toward
hypermasculine nationalistic displays in sport. The same can be said of Robbie, an Army
veteran, who had positive responses regarding pride of his own personal military service,
and yet he had surprisingly strong critical perceptions of the directors (DOD). Past
socialization plays a major role in their differing interpretations of these displays.
The question remains to be answered if paid patriotism, should or should not, be
used in sporting events. However, it is clear looking through the lenses of symbolic
interaction and impression management that these acts do have effects, albeit maybe not
the director’s predicted effect, on the spectator’s viewpoints of America’s war on
terrorism and its military post-9/11.
While our findings are rich and substantial, the small sample size is our primary
limitation. Future studies should expand sample size in order to generalize and
understand demographical impact on spectator perceptions of nationalistic displays in
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NATIONALISM AND SPORT 22
2008-2015 U.S. Department of Defense – NFL contract totals by team
U.S. Department of Defense – NFL contractsa
Award ID Recipient Award Bureau
W912JM15P0091 ATLANTA FALCONS $150,000 Army
W912JM14P0131 ATLANTA FALCONS $114,500 Army
W912PQ14M0233 BUFFALO BILLS $150,000 Army
W912J214P0091 GREEN BAY PACKERS $50,000 Army
W912LA14P0055 SF 49ers $125,000 Army
W912L914P0144 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS $200,000 Army
W912KN14P0123 NEW YORK JETS $115,000 Army
FA448414P0037 PITT. STEELERS $27,000 Air Force
W912NS14P0142 ST. LOUIS RAMS $60,000 Army
Fiscal year Total $841,500
aData retrieved from USAspending.gov
Paid Patriotism by NFL Team
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 23
W912JM13C0013 ATLANTA FALCONS $315,000 Army
W912K613P0114 BALTIMORE RAVENS $89,500 Army
W912K613P0114 BALTIMORE RAVENS $195,000 Army
W912PQ13M0113 BUFFALO BILLS $250,000 Army
FA448413P0049 CINCINATI BENGALS $4,960 Air Force
W912L113P0015 DALLAS COWBOYS $62,500 Army
W912LM12P0092 MINNESOTA VIKINGS $150,000 Army
W912LM12P0092 MINNESOTA VIKINGS $150,000 Army
W912KN13P0070 NEW YORK JETS $115,000 Army
W9124D13P0338 PITT. STEELERS $9,000 Army
Fiscal year Total $1,340,960
W912JM12P0091 ATLANTA FALCONS $300,000 Army
W912K612P0123 BALTIMORE RAVENS $250,000 Army
W912K611P0170 BALTIMORE RAVENS $85,000 Army
W912PQ12M0147 BUFFALO BILLS $250,000 Army
W9136412P0277 CINCINATI BENGALS $67,000 Army
FA448412P0135 CLEVELAND BROWNS $10,000 Air Force
W912J212P0097 GB PACKERS $150,000 Army
FA448412P0145 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS $20,000 Air Force
W912L912P0122 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS $200,000 Army
FA304712P0139 MIAMI DOLPHINS $20,000 Air Force
W912LM12P0092 MINNESOTA VIKINGS $225,000 Army
W912LM12P0092 MINNESOTA VIKINGS $225,000 Army
W912KN12P0129 NEW YORK JETS $97,500 Army
W912K312P0050 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS $180,000 Army
Fiscal year Total $2,079,500
W912JM11C0021 ATLANTA FALCONS $250,000 Army
W912JM11C0001 ATLANTA FALCONS $70,000 Army
W912JM11C0001 ATLANTA FALCONS $105,000 Army
W912K611P0170 BALTIMORE RAVENS $265,000 Army
FA448411P0134 BUFFALO BILLS $29,000 Air Force
W9136411P0386 C INNATI BENGALS $67,000 Army
FA448411P0136 CLEVELAND BROWNS $12,500 Air Force
W912J211P0002 GB PACKERS $30,000 Army
W912J211P0058 GB PACKERS $400,000 Army
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 24
FA820111P0038 GB PACKERS $4,634 Air Force
W912L911P0070 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS $200,000 Army
W912NS11P0157 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS $125,000 Army
W912LM11P0155 MINNESOTA VIKINGS $230,000 Army
W912LM11P0155 MINNESOTA VIKINGS $230,000 Army
W912KN11P0105 NEW YORK JETS $50,000 Army
Fiscal year Total $2,068,134
FA448410P0078 BALTIMORE RAVENS $11,500 Air Force
W912K610P0009 BALTIMORE RAVENS $4,500 Army
W912K610P0105 BALTIMORE RAVENS $340,000 Army
W9136410P0298 C INNATI BENGALS $67,000 Army
W9136410P0408 CLEVELAND BROWNS $15,000 Army
W912J210P0135 GB PACKERS $100,000 Army
W912J210P0030 GB PACKERS $38,500 Army
W912J210P0004 GB PACKERS $25,000 Army
W912LM10P0111 MINNESOTA VIKINGS $277,200 Army
W912LM10P0111 MINNESOTA VIKINGS $277,200 Army
Fiscal year Total $1,155,900
M8400109P0079 DALLAS COWBOYS $65,000 Navy
W912J209P0175 GB PACKERS $35,000 Army
W9124D09P0324 IND. COLTS $7,044 Army
W912NS09P0015 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS $12,500 Army
W912LM09P0128 MINNESOTA VIKINGS $150,000 Army
W912LM09P0128 MINNESOTA VIKINGS $150,000 Army
W912NS09P0014 ST LOUIS RAMS $10,000 Army
Fiscal year Total $429,544
N0024408P2791 SAN FRANCISCO 49ers $50,000 Navy
W9124D08P0462 IND. COLTS $10,564 Army
Fiscal year Total $60,564
TOTAL ALL YEARS $8,215,538
Data retrieved from USAspending.gov
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 25
Interviewer: Christopher Castro
Chris: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I will be brief with my questions to allow
you time to gather your thoughts and express yourself. The first questions I already know
the answers but I would like to document them in the transcript.
Chris: What is your full name?
Chris: What is your birthdate?
Robbie: August 14, 1934
Robbie: San Francisco
Chris: What city do you currently reside in?
Robbie: I live in Clear Lake, between Houston and Galveston, TX.
Chris: What sports teams do you follow or consider yourself a fan of?
Robbie: All of the Houston Teams: Texans, Rockets, Astros, and I was a big fan of the
Oilers before they left for Tennessee and became the Titans.
Chris: I remember your frustrations with Warren Moon.
Robbie: That guy would get a look in his eye of worry on the sideline and it would spread
to the rest of the team. The comeback game they lost to the Bills and their backup QB in
the wild card game was very difficult to take. The last game of the regular season they
beat the Bills, easily, in Houston and Jim Kelley injured his knee, out of the game and for
the playoffs. The following week, we were up by 32 points in Buffalo and lost the game,
it’s still unbelievable! Most people gave Reich credit for taking over for Kelley and
bringing his team back but I tend to credit Moon with choking instead. (Laughing)
Chris: Have you witnessed sport events with patriotic displays?
Chris: Can you describe what you saw?
Robbie: I have seen the Super Bowl and the World Series salutes to the troops and some
of the regular season games also. Maybe some NASCAR too.
Chris: Any other sports?
Robbie: What? Like golf or tennis? (Laughing) I don’t think so. Maybe some smaller
things with the NBA, maybe uniform modifications or socks, and headband/wristband
stuff LeBron style.
Chris: Do any of these photos look familiar?
Robbie: Absolutely, that’s exactly what I am referring to.
Chris: Did you see any patriotic symbols?
Robbie: Just like those pictures show, they included big flags, troop formations,
fireworks, and military aircraft formation flyovers. Occasionally, I have seen alternate
uniforms with camouflage or stars & stripes incorporated into the team logos.
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 26
Chris: How did that make you feel about America, the Military, and Nationalism?
Robbie: Well, I served in the Army, I felt proud to have served my country even though it
wasn’t as long as you served. I think it is good to recognize the sacrifices our troops
have made in order to protect our country, as you know, it can be a difficult life at times.
Chris: Yes, it can.
Robbie: I lived through Vietnam so I believe it is important to demonstrate that we
learned from our errors of the past. Regardless of your personal beliefs toward any
conflict, you should respect those men and women that risk there lives in support of our
country and way of life. I am proud to be an American, as you know, my grandparents,
your great grandparents, immigrated from Spain, and I can tell you that they were both
very grateful for the opportunity this country gave them to make a better life. I get
emotional when I consider that this country was created as a melting pot of people from
many places and yet we have somehow forgotten this strength in today’s politics
regarding immigration. What is the term for that?
Robbie: That’s it!
Chris: Well said.
What feelings did you experience during theses displays of nationalism in sport? Well,
truthfully, I think of you and the personal sacrifices you have made and I am thankful you
returned physically unharmed. I also think about the conversations we have had
regarding your difficulty reconciling hurting people. I realize it isn’t easy, to do what
you have trained to do, but you have maintained a professionalism that his highly
admirable in my opinion. But what do I know? I’m just your uncle. (Laughs)
Chris: I certainly appreciated being able to discuss those issues with someone outside my
combat team, it helped me more than you probably know. There is no sound like the
sound of your guys on the ground screaming for help, it’s awful.
Robbie: Well you’re very welcome, I was happy to contribute in some small way.
Chris: Have you seen any wounded warriors at sporting events, like the one in the
Robbie: Yes, it is very emotional to see that, it makes me feel empathy, amazement, and
gratitude at the same time I feel a bit of anger.
Chris: How so?
Robbie: It is exploitation of that young person’s misfortune for the benefit of what?
Money for a team or recruiting more people into service of the country to replace them? I
realize it must be a big thrill at the time for that person, but at some point they will see it
for what it is and that will open a new, invisible wound, that must heal also.
Chris: Why do you think you experienced those feelings?
Robbie: Obviously, I reflect on my own service many years ago, and because I have a
close connection to someone, you, who served during this difficult time in our history.
Seeing you launch that aircraft into the air is really something very special to see.
Chris: Thank you, what about your feelings regarding the wounded warrior?
Robbie: Oh, keep me on task Christopher. (Laughing) I tend to think that no one enjoys
seeing anyone being taken advantage of, especially if you are a protector type of person,
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 27
like a parent or a spouse. I feel happy that they are not giving up and trying to have a
normal life but, I don’t like seeing them exploited.
Chris: Thank you for your service.
Robbie: Thank you for yours.
Why do you think there is a desire to combine patriotic events with sporting events?
Robbie: I suppose they are easy targets.
Chris: Do you mean a target rich environment?
Robbie: I suppose, but the mentality is if you aren’t with us then you are a terrorist. They
reach thousands of people in a stadium and potentially millions on television. I also think
that in times of conflict, many people see sporting events as a form of normalcy, Baseball
represents America’s pastime – I still remember Chevrolet advertisements from the 70’s
– Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet. (Laughs)
Chris: I am embarrassed to admit, but I remember those ads vividly, it’s embarrassing
that we bought those ugly cars! (Laughs) Are there any other examples you recall?
Robbie: The big one that comes to mind is the Olympics, very nationalistic events
especially when it’s in your country. Do you remember the U.S. verses Russia in hockey?
Chris: (Laughing) It’s funny you mention that, we have discussed it in my current class,
mostly regarding the movie about it, most people in my class weren’t born then or
weren’t old enough to remember it. I do though, I can tell you exactly where I was when
they won, I was at the old Rocket roller rink in Oklahoma City and we watched it on a
small portable television.
Robbie: Exactly! That’s what I’m talking about, do you remember them jumping all over
each other, flags everywhere?
Chris: Yes, I do, it was amazing.
Robbie: I get chills all over again thinking about it. That’s what nationalism is all about.
Chris: Me too. This may be obvious but to close out that thought, why do you think there
is that connection?
Robbie: Well, it’s a very nationalistic event as a whole, we happened to be the host
country that year so it was probably amplified. The Olympics have always been that way,
except when there were boycotts, athletes representing their countries, cities, and towns,
doesn’t that go all the way back to the Greeks?
Chris: I’m not exactly sure, but it seems plausible. After observing those events how has
it affected your thought process about 9/11?
Robbie: It makes me proud of the way our country responded to Bin Laden and the other
terrorists. This was this generation’s Pearl Harbor, it united the will of Americans once
again. I think that is something we have always been good at, back us into a corner and
the entire nation comes out swinging.
Chris: Do you believe there is an association between nationalism and American sports?
Robbie: I think there is more of a manufactured connection that has come to light
recently. I read that the Pentagon has let $4 Million in contracts with the NFL for
support the troops activities. Chris: True, I did my own research and I came up with a
little over $8M in contracts for advertisement just with NFL teams.
Robbie: Well that changes the spirit of those things drastically, cheapens it. Now I fell
like I’m watching another commercial instead of a heartfelt salute to our brave men and
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 28
women – it’s a goddamn recruiting commercial. Disgraceful is what it is. It’s almost as
disgraceful as what they did to Tillman.
Chris: How so?
Robbie: they painted him to be a brave hero dying in combat with the enemy, but come to
find out, he was shot in the back by friendly fire – Disgraceful.
Chris: It happens more than you would think, blue on blue.
Robbie: I’m speaking more about the Pentagon cover up, I don’t care how you die in
service to your country, first responder or military, it’s still honorable. They should have
told the truth and still treated him as a hero. That’s what should have happened.
Chris: Do you see that as damage control or managing the warfighting effort’s
Robbie: Absolutely, that’s exactly what it was. Some idiot, public relations specialist
thought it would reflect poorly on the warfighters accidentally killing one of their own
people but the reality is war is messy, it’s confusing, and mistakes happen. It takes
nothing away from Tillman’s bravery or his dedication to his country, he was the victim
of an errant bullet. It didn’t change my opinion of the soldier but it sure reinforced my
perception that the Pentagon says what they think you want to hear not the truth or what
is difficult to hear. What a PR debacle that was. They made the same mistake the first
time around with Schwarzkopf’s march to Bagdad, they showed all of the carnage on that
highway of death and suddenly people weren’t as patriotic or supportive, it made people
sick. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been shown but it certainly created an undesirable
effect in public opinion as well as the coalition partners.
Chris: That seems contradictory.
Robbie: I understand what you mean, I meant that some PR person thought it would
reinforce support of the war. They never seem to predict the correct outcome of their
propaganda. Is that clearer?
Chris: Yes, thank you. Why do you think sports and nationalism are tied together on a
Robbie: Like I said before, I think they are easy targets, especially when you consider
them recruiting opportunities to reach millions of people – that’s a lot of bang for the
Chris: Does that mean you believe the DOD is manipulating all of those events?
Robbie: Yes, I do, based upon this contracting story.
Chris: Thank you. Have you seen any changes in sport events since 9/11?
Robbie: I don’t know if you would call it changes necessarily but the frequency of salutes
has certainly increased. I take that back, actually it has changed in that the wounded
warriors are paraded around in front of everyone, I don’t remember it being that
Chris: Thanks for your time today, I hope it wasn’t too painful.
Robbie: Not at all! I enjoy talking sports.
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 29
Interviewer: Nate Denby
Nate: Have you witnessed sport events with patriotic displays? I have actually. Okay, can
you describe what you saw?
Brett: My own experiences from being at baseball games, football games, soccer games,
you see the sense of patriotism through the singing of the national anthem the giant
American flags that they usually bring out to cover the field and they usually have service
members holding those flags and waving them. And then also the flags they just have
stationed throughout the stands
Nate: How did that make you feel about America, the Military, and Nationalism did it
increase your American pride?
Brett: It definitely increased my American pride in those moments, and there’s times
where in a certain point of the song or if a military plane is flying overhead that you get
like the chills sort of feeling and you definitely have that respect for the military and for
the people who are active or inactive and that are helping to keep this country safe.
Nate: Why do you think it brings out those feelings?
Brett: I think it brings out those feelings because a lot of times people watch the news and
they hear and see about everything but in a moment like that they’re actually witnessing
those emotions and feelings right then and there and helps bring out versus if you’re
watching it on TV. And, you kind of see when you see everyone up and together and the
whole stadium silent and observing what’s going on, if not they’re partaking in singing
the song or something like that, they’re not doing their side business. It’s a point in time
where everybody is doing the same thing and I think that’s a really cool aspect even with
you’ve got the two teams going back and forth but everyone takes that moment to be
Nate: Why do you think there is a desire to combine patriotic events with sporting
Brett: I think it’s definitely a nice place to implement the military aspect of it, when you
think about the military it’s pretty gun-ho, pretty manly to a certain degree. It doesn’t
necessarily fit in with something like ballet as much as it would with a football or
baseball game where everybody is trying to get a little jacked up and they can do that by
bringing out patriotism in everyone.
Nate: Do you have any other experiences with nationalism in sport other than what we’ve
talked about so far?
Brett: Yea, I think you see a lot of times for instance, a personal experience for me
playing soccer. Sometimes you can customize cleats and one thing I’ve done is they have
an option to put your country’s flag on your cleats. The last couple of times I’ve put a
little American flag on my cleats to try and represent and show that, it’s not too much
attention being brought to it, but it’s a cool little thing that I’ve enjoyed doing and am
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 30
sure there’s a lot of other people that have either put the American flag or whatever their
respective country is (on their cleats).
Nate: Do you think there’s any real connection between sports and nationalism?
Brett: I think there’s a connection and it goes back a long time. You’ve always had the
Olympics and that competition aspects and you had people competing against each other
and once it got larger and you have people from different populations or different
countries, nations competing against each other it solidified that nationalism in sports
and those rivalries between countries or states. I think that’s a nice cool fun aspect is to
have the Olympics or the world games for baseball or basketball. After 9/11 definitely a
sense of pride that has grown and security factors, you see more security, pat downs and
things you can’t bring into stadiums. A boost in security just helps people be safe.
Nate: Why do you think it is or isn’t necessary to combine sports with nationalism, do
you have an opinion and why or why not?
Brett: I would say that it’s definitely not hurting anyone by having it or displaying it. You
don’t really see people complaining about the national anthem being sung and I think
one of the cool things they do and implement is if it’s between two different countries or
two different parts they’ll incorporate both of those national anthems and I think that’s a
really nice way to show respect for other countries as well because everybody has that
sense of nationalism and pride that they’d like to express. For instance, at the USA
versus Brazil women’s soccer game a couple weeks ago at century link. First they
introduced the Brazilian team and they had the Brazilian national anthem and then they
had the American one being played after that. I think it’s a nice thing, its respectable, I
kind of keep coming back to the same point and you can take that moment in time and the
thousands of people that are there you can bring them together and unify them and
remind everyone about you know the country and having pride, the service members.
Nate: Do you think there’s a difference in patriotic displays before and after September
11, has the attacks on September 11 changed the way you feel about patriotic
demonstrations in sporting events?
Brett: I think definitely right after September 11 you saw a much higher increase or
influence in people and their patriotic events after 9/11. Before 9/11 you still had it, but
after, and going back to uniting everyone, it was a place for all of them to be together,
stand there together, and all show their support at the same time versus like you know
taking to the streets or something like that they could all be in a stadium together and
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 31
Interviewer: Anthony Armfield
Tony: First I’ll show you a series of pictures to warm you up.
Kevin: this is how sports are used to like incite patriotism.
Tony: We are trying to discover things without really going with one specific thing.
Kevin: The country wants to like induce more patriotism through such a similar
communal like things like a sport seemly like you could feel the same way about a sports
team as you can about your country. Like Germany is such a similar thing like rooting
for your team or being patriotic to your country.
Tony: Rooting for your country kind of thing?
Kevin: It could, it be could be that the U.S. wants to incite more patriotism through
stealing. Steal from the patriotism that teams feel in sports. But this is also you are also
being patriotic towards America. That type of feeding on it.
Tony: This is a NASCAR picture too
Kevin: yeah that’s some of the most patriotic shit in the world Budweiser and dumb
Tony: Okay, so there’s the pictures I wanted to show you.
Tony: Have you witnessed sports events with patriotic displays and if so, can you
describe what you saw?
Kevin: The national anthem for every baseball game and football game too I believe,
before it. You thank America for being so great to bless you with this sports viewing
pleasure. I think I’m restating, but no matter what sport has an American flag in it. We
do veterans day in sports where they put American flags on their jerseys. When it’s
Veteran’s day or fourth of July they always assimilate it into the game some way. Yeah,
sports are platform that can help incite patriotism I think.
Tony: When you were seeing any of those patriotic displays, did you see any symbols
metaphorically or literally such as a flag, fireworks, military personnel, flyovers or
Kevin: Every time we used to hit a homerun in the Kingdome there was fireworks. I never
witnessed paratroopers, but I do think that they do flyovers. It’s all part of celebration. I
mean I guess it could have the undertone of America is great. As well, just integrating
that into sports. I mean every time there is like Tillman, pat Tillman was like a huge deal
because he left his stardom as an NFL player to go serve his country and I know that was
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 32
a huge deal as far as the media blew that up to be like sports are great and your country
is greater. And just Tillman as a symbol of patriotism especially since he died. I don't
think that a lot of veterans have the chance to play sports, however I don’t know of many
cases of that, but I’m sure that would be a big media event if they did.
Tony: So when you were watching the Tillman media coverage how did that make you
feel about America?
Kevin: That’s a really personal opinion I think because my view on America is like
obviously has two distinctive parts to it. Everything I think is wrong with our grip on the
world economically and just on politically and how were driven by the exploitation of
other countries. Our economy is the basis for capitalism. So that's like a realistic view
but then I guess I can't say that I’m not thankful for like, I mean I think everyone in the
world would love the opportunity to grow up and have the opportunity that we have. I
can't hate it so much because I’ve benefited from it. The media coverage of Tillman’s
death wasn't really a positive assimilation for me because I was like there like all over
this guy's jock because he went to serve his country and I think that was a stupid thing for
him to do when he had something going for him like that. But that's like just a completely
different personal viewpoint. I would never go fight that war because I don't believe in
why were there. I don’t believe it's like for the American people or like for our good it's
for like the wrong reasons whereas if we were invaded by another country not like a
terrorist attack that wasn't the burden of any particular country. But if we were like
invaded or attacked by another country like pearl harbor or something I would feel a
much more reasonable responsibility to defend America like my home, my family with
everything. That made me feel like he wasn’t a smart guy but I can see where lots of
people were like wow what an American hero like giving up so much because Tillman felt
responsible to do that. I can see where it was a big deal, because it doesn't make any
sense to me personally.
Tony: Playing off that symbol of pat Tillman and what you saw in the media coverage
how did that make you feel about America’s military and nationalism?
Kevin: While the military always has those kind of propaganda commercials of like “an
army of one” they will help build you up and make you a better person. And that is how I
would expect them to market themselves I suppose. I actually agree to an extent that they
do strengthen mentally and prepare you to be a better person. Become task oriented and
be able to like succeed in a business or work environment postwar. They create strong
individuals, but they also just destroy you in the process by stripping you of your
individualism and like everything that makes you who you are and they re-socialize you
so basically just destroy you initially to build you into what they need you to be. And that
would be hard for me personally to go through because I would be resistant to that I
think everyone is probably. But I would not like that being stripped of your identity just
becoming a number seems like completely awful. But yeah, I understand how they can
definitely use that to see how to strengthen their brand in the eyes of the public and the
American people. I can see how that works.
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 33
Tony: What feelings did you experience during these displays of nationalism in sport? So
like the pat Tillman media coverage or just the national anthems before the games like
what feelings does that kind of evoke?
Kevin: Me being not especially patriotic, I would say like not feeling like super proud to
have an American flag hanging outside my house and stuff. I don't feel that same kind of
patriotism or like happiness that I do when I think of like the Seahawks winning. That's
another thing that everything that everyone in that stadium pretty much less tourists are
like all Americans so it's just like one more thing that is bringing us altogether to root for
a team I suppose. But it doesn't personally make me feel like more patriotic like I would
imagine it could be sought to do.
Tony: So why do you think you experience those feelings of not feeling more patriotic?
Kevin: That just goes back to my personal overall view of America and that it doesn't
make me feel either way really it just makes me feel like we have to do it every sports
game. I don't know I never really think about it I guess we just sing the national anthem
that’s just what we do before every match. Yeah it's just probably being done in every
country I would imagine.
Tony: I think they do, they do national anthems at almost all sporting events because the
world cup all teams sing their national anthems before each game.
Kevin: That’s an extreme example of the world cup where like nationalism is the same
thing as the team you're rooting for. That is like the exact same thing because you’re
rooting for your country’s team.
Tony: Why do you think there is desire to combine patriotic events with sporting events?
Kevin: If you can draw that connection between your team and America than you are like
subconsciously rooting for America like they become like very similar and patriotism can
gain momentum from that same emotion that you feel supporting your team you also are
meant to feel for your country. So it can help incite patriotism among the population by
feeding off of your connection and love for who you're rooting for, your team.
Tony: After observing those patriotic events how has it affected your thought process
Kevin: Since I can't really say it hasn't really effected my thought process about it but
more just reminded me about it like obviously the whole never forget campaign is pretty
continual. I guess it's a good way of reminding us about it but also like creating a sense
of unity among the population of any country. It feeds off the emotions that you felt when
thousands of Americans died and the anger you felt about someone attacking us so
successfully and like the most famous city in the world. I think that you are like angry and
sad and it brings back those emotions kind of. It definitely brings people together because
we all felt like pretty similarly when that happened, like angry and sad and scared kind
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 34
of. That was a big moment for like everyone, you feel like you're not safe then feel like
America can do something about it or just to feel like you’re not invincible I guess
everyone felt that and were mad and scared at the same time. So that's another group
feeling that's similar to the feeling that you would feel rooting for your team with all your
compatriots of your ball team.
Tony: Do you have any other experiences of nationalism in sport? Now that we are
talking about it has it developed any other new thoughts or anything like have you
experienced any 9/11 tributes?
Kevin: I think every game on or even around September 11th will do a tribute to that.
They’ll probably also have like survivors or have people that were affected directly by it
like death of a family member on the plane or in the towers would be like present there or
they are like given some kind of recognition like seats or something I think that they do
that like favor to them as like a show that they are one in the same unity sports nation.
We do that for veterans too. We give them sections in our stadiums where like all the
veterans get to go for free or people who are on leave or about to be deployed. We also
have the flag bearers that are always military and are dressed in their formal uniforms. I
can see a marine holding like the flag for the state and country.
Tony: Do you believe there is an association between nationalism and American sports?
Kevin: Yeah I definitely think that the national government tries quite hard to assimilate
the two and make one the other so that they can have that emotion that you feel for either,
like if you are like a really strong patriot and you'll be like excited that they're doing that
and it well help you root harder for your team and buy another beer or go to another
game. Or if you're really a diehard fan then you'll maybe feel more pride or more like
emotion for your country as well.
Tony: Like the nationalism might rub off a little bit?
Kevin: All these associations so heavily to each other and really it comes down to it your
team doesn't really have anything to do with your country I mean it is played in your
country it’s a big event that happens on your country's soil but being American doesn’t
have anything to do with it because you can be from any country and play a professional
sport America. The Seahawks were talking about drafting a rugby player a couple years
ago, that’s an Australian who can play in the national football league if there good
enough. I know in soccer and basketball we have people from all over the world play on
teams like Gasol or Rudy Gay. Just to come to the biggest platform in the world for, I
think the U.S. takes pride in its sports. As far as the NBA and the NFL are concerned the
highest level of those competitions in the world no other countries have such a
competitive league as us obviously football or NBA. But there's tons of other sports and I
doubt we are world leaders in cricket and I know we are not in soccer.
Tony: Why do you think that sports and nationalism are tied together on such a regular
and frequent basis?
NATIONALISM AND SPORT 35
Kevin: Because it’s good for patriotism and nationalism to feed off of those emotions that
we feel in sports like it's good for you to develop assimilation with nationalism and sports
than you can make patriots out of people who don't care because they just feel that same
emotion for like especially repeatedly. You’ll be like conditioned without even knowing it.
To be like the American flag and assimilate that with your sports team. Then you have
like an even unknowingly deeper connection bond with that and it makes probably more
of a patriot. It strengthens your patriotism by assimilating those two similar almost.
Tony: Have you seen any changes in sporting events since September 11th happened?
Kevin: Probably just shot through the roof, especially right after September 11th
did like everyone just constantly doing like heavily patriotic events at games and like
speaking throwing the first pitch and singing the national anthem probably all those
things were tied to people that were affected by 9/11 or words were said to the people
affected. Moments of silence. And that can be directly in relation even to like the biggest
trick of them all George Bush making us go into Afghanistan after that you know he
wanted like wholehearted patriotism. He wanted to create that environment that like if
you're not flying that flag and loving America then you are like a piece of shit. Like I
know that's how it was in politics after September 11 like if you weren't in full support of
like going after the people who did this with militarization then were like not a patriot
you weren’t an American you were viewed like a terrorist yourself. And so I can imagine
that it was like I’m really full throttle pushed into that environment. Patriotism was
pushed into the sports environment.
Tony: Why do you think it is or isn't necessary to have such patriotic displays at sporting
Kevin: For the population it's for us it isn’t necessary, but for the government of the
united states it's necessary to have something that kind of keeps patriotism up obviously
you want people to like believe in your country. So it’s necessary for them to keep
reinforcing to keep morale high basically to keep people from doubting but for the
American people it’s not necessary for that for us to enjoy sports. I mean at least for me.
Maybe for NASCAR it is that’s like the same thing yeah. I think the fans of NASCAR are
like the most American fans. I think they just like have a hard on for anything American
flaggy and they just eat it up. It's almost not even as necessary for them because they
already feel so strongly but they love it so give them what they want. It’s a win-win. They
want to tear some people up or give them butterflies. But for like football for me there
could be like no American flag and they couldn’t sing the national anthem and it
wouldn’t make a difference at all. I am not there to see that I just want to watch a good