Perhaps today isn’t the most opportune time to hail the thoughtful work of ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte, who undoubtedly will have to address the Phil Ball / Qatar junket subject in a future column. However, Lipsyte used Friday’s entry to tackle “Around The Horn” panelist Kevin Blackistone’s November 6 comments about Northwestern’s garish American flag uniforms and the playing of what the latter calls, “a war anthem”, aka “The Star Spangled Banner”. “Reprehensible” and “disrespectful” were amongst the viewer comments forwarded to Lipsyte, but it seems he’s not in agreement.
“I wish I could have fleshed it out, but I only had a few seconds,” Blackistone said. “I wouldn’t retract anything, but I wouldn’t have let the anthem overshadow the larger theme of the conflation of sports and militarism.”
Blackistone knew the question was coming. ATH producers meet daily at 8 a.m. to plan the show, then have a one-hour conference call with the panelists at 10:30 a.m. Blackistone not only had written previously about the partnership of the military and sports events but had devoted several class sessions to it. He had recently discussed in class the appropriateness of the national anthem as a game opener. He might have been too well-prepared on the subject for such a brief sound bite.
I thought Blackistone’s commentary deserved to be unpacked on ESPN, if not to classroom-hour length, at least in a column or in a few minutes on a program that could show other examples of sports and military collaboration, perhaps exploring how purported displays of patriotism might disguise service recruiting, politicking and commercialization. Is football good preparation for combat (an active officer recently said that in a discussion of the Army-Navy game)? How come so few pro athletes ever use those wondrous muscles to actually defend their country (even though, as Ombuddy Paul Gigliotti of Andover, Mass., pointed out, ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski insists on calling quarterbacks “warriors”)?