ESPN's Howard Bryant Sees 'Authoritarian Shift at the Ballpark' When Cops Sing National Anthem

May 28th, 2016 7:07 PM

ESPN Magazine columnist Howard Bryant most certainly does not approve of cops singing the anthem before pro sporting events.

The biweekly sports magazine comes with a bonus dose of dubious liberal piety from “The Truth” columnist, the mag’s moral authority/scold on social issues, especially what he sees as systemic American racism. His latest column in the June 6 issue, “The Unspoken Truth” (not online) is on a familiar topic: the scourge of “authoritarian” patriotism and militarism infecting the ballpark. The subhead: “Why don’t more athletes speak out on behalf of their communities? Perhaps more of them would if there wasn’t a chilling force looming over them.” A chilling force preventing multi-millionaires from speaking their minds?

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Bryant summarized police brutality anecdotal evidence from Chicago, Baltimore, New York City and Cleveland before diving in.

Policing is clearly one of the most divisive issues in the country – except in the sports arena, where the post-9/11 hero narrative has been so deeply embedded within its game-day fabric that policing is seen as clean, heroic, uncomplicated. Following the marketing strategy of the military, police advocacy organizations have partnered with teams from all four major leagues to host ‘Law Enforcement Appreciation’ nights, or similar events.

The horror!

In Bryant’s Manichean worldview, supporting police means the poor don’t matter. Bryant may have also thrown some shade toward his fellow social justice warrior colleagues at ESPN magazine, for blaming rich athletes for not speaking out on liberal issues when the real fault lies with ownership, “a chilling force looming over them.” (In “Waiting for LeBron," an ESPN magazine essay in early May, Eli Saslow pondered why Cleveland Cavaliers basketball legend LeBron James backed off anti-gun activism.)

Nobody seems to care much about this authoritarian shift at the ballpark, yet the media and the public are quick to demand accountability from players they consider insufficiently activist. They blame these black players for not speaking up on behalf of their communities, ignoring the smothering effect that staged patriotism and cops singing the national anthem in a time of Ferguson have on player expression. It’s indirectly stifled, while the increasing police pageantry at games sends another clear message: The sentiments of the poor in Ferguson and Cleveland do not matter....While athletes are routinely criticized for “not doing more,” it is conveniently ignored how deeply their employers have mobilized against the most powerless elements of their fan base.

Bryant has made a hobby horse of what he sees as the lamentable patriotic events before professional sports events, especially in the wake of police controversies and the era of Black Lives Matter. In November 2015 he wrote "Are You Ready for Some Patriotism?" one of several clunky pieces from Bryant taking on the military and police culture. Bryant even argued that Veterans Day was a slap in the face to American Indians (and don’t get him started on cops singing the National Anthem).

There is not just deceit in these practices but also an insulting distortion of history and images. The Chicago Blackhawks ostensibly honored Veterans Day with a camouflage jersey containing the Blackhawks' logo in the center, clearly uninterested in the colliding imagery -- the systematic removal of native tribes occurred at the hands of the U.S. Army. Since 9/11, America has conflated the armed forces with first responders, creating a mishmash of anthem-singing cops and surprise homecomings in a time of Ferguson and militarized police. Tensions continue to mount in aggrieved communities, yet the LA Dodgers pandered to police by holding Law Enforcement Appreciation Night in September.

In June 2013 he penned similar paranoiac murmurings in “Sports and Patriotism”:

The ballpark, in the time of two murky wars and a constant threat of international and domestic terrorism, has been for the last dozen years a place for patriotism. The industry that once avoided the complex world now embraces it, serving as the chief staging ground for expressions of patriotism, and has codified it into game-day identity.

A dynamic that was supposed to be temporary has become permanent. The atmospheres of the games are no longer politically neutral but decidedly, often uncomfortably, nationalistic. The military flyovers, the pre-game inclusion of the armed forces, and the addition of "God Bless America" to "The Star-Spangled Banner" are no longer spontaneous or reactions to a specific event, but fixtures.