During Fox’s telecast of Tuesday night’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, some 30 military veterans were honored at Citi Field as part of People Magazine’s “Tribute To Heroes”. Taking a dim view of the ceremonies, the Huffington Post’s Richard Crepeau notes that while he’d initially thought we’d be introduced to one veteran from each MLB organization, “I quickly realized that such a thing was not possible, because most teams do not have military veterans on their rosters.” And no, Randy Myers in camo wouldn’t have counted, either.
The fact is, that beginning with the Vietnam War, sports personnel serving in the military have been few in number. When there was a military draft in place most elite professionals in the NFL and MLB found ways to circumvent it, and if they served it was often in a six-month reserve unit allowing them to miss very little in-season time. Positions in these units were difficult to secure and often resulted from political intervention for athletes and others with the necessary connections.
Those professional leagues, like the NFL and MLB that are now actively demonstrating their patriotism were just as active in assisting their star players in avoiding or minimizing military service. When the draft ended these practices ended as well and there have been a paltry number of professional athletes who have volunteered for military service.
So what does any of this mean? It certainly points to some hypocrisy. It also points to a certain level of cynical exploitation of veterans, particularly wounded veterans and their families, for those who want to mark their brand with the American flag. The Pat Tillman case comes to mind as the worst example of attempted exploitation, and even now the NFL continues to invoke his memory.
So it is with mixed feelings that I will watch the ceremonies at baseball’s all-star game Tuesday night, as it is with mixed feelings that I watch many of these spectacles of contrived patriotism. Only the coldest hearted among us could fail to feel for those veterans who are paraded in front of us in public, and then are neglected for much of the rest of the year.