The Ruder Reality: The danger of confusing sports and war

On Wednesday night, millions of Americans turned on their TVs inanticipation of war.

Instead, they got a basketball game and a reminder of just howmisguided and overused the sports as war metaphors truly are.

Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett, sounding more like AlPacino in “Scarface” than the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player,set the stage Monday when he said, “I’m loadin’ up the pump. I’mloadin’ up the Uzi. I got a couple M-16s, a couple 9s. I got acouple joints with some silencers on them. I’m just loading clips,a couple grenades. I got a missile launcher with a couple ofmissiles. I’m ready for war.”

Why would a 7-foot-1-inch, multi-millionaire need such anarsenal?

“It’s Game 7 [of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals], man.That’s it. It’s for all the marbles,” Garnett replied.


The same issue came up last November when Kellen Winslow, anAll-American tight end for the University of Miami football team,made similar comments after a tough game.

“It’s war,” an animated and angry Winslow said. “They’re outthere to kill you, so I’m out there to kill them. We don’t careabout anybody but this U. They’re going after my legs. I’m going tocome right back at them. I’m a … soldier.”

Both athletes apologized within days and stated that they meantno disrespect to real-life soldiers.

Fans in Minnesota and Miami didn’t rush to localsporting goods stores to buy up military and survival supplies toprepare for the coming battle.

The White House didn’t go to Defcon-1.

No harm done. Right?

The reality isn’t so simple.

It would be easy to criticize Garnett and Winslow forinsensitivity and ignorance, especially in light of the war goingon Iraq and the daily casualties of innocent Iraqis and Americans,but to do so would miss the real problem – how our society hasbecome so detached from the harsh realities of war that we freelyanalogize war and sports.

Direct metaphor aside, sports terminology is laden with wordsand phrases stolen directly from war.

Teams draft in “war rooms.” Good hitters “kill” pitches.Defensive linemen “blow up” tackles. NBA players “explode” pastdefenders.

The lingo has even slipped into golf, where a well-hit ball is”murdered.”

Coaches at all levels wax on about how the game is “a war ofattrition” or “a hard fought battle.”

Linking a simple, if hotly contested, game to a life-or-deathendeavor obviously gives the former an increased sense of urgencykey to winning.

Part of what makes sports so compelling is the intense passionand desire to win that athletes bring to the game.

Anyone who saw Garnett will his team to victory in Wednesdaynight’s game or watched Winslow lead his team to the nationalchampionship knows that they won because the desire to win burned alittle bit brighter in them than in their competitors.

There is no doubt that at some point their coaches toldthem they were going into battle and needed to slaughter or killthe other team.

One could argue that war-sports analogies fuel that next levelof passion and the quotes above are merely indicative of twoathletes at that next level.

But at the same time they show how such analogies blur linesthat should not be blurred.

Analogizing sports and war doesn’t replace one with the other,but in the same way it imparts sports with greater importance, itdiminishes war’s brutality. After watching and hearing suchanalogies day after day, they lose the importance that made themeffective in the first place.

While war-sports analogies have been around since Achilles andHector dueled on the Trojan plains, it is especially important thatwe are aware of their existence and impact today as much of thebrutality of the war in Iraq is censored by our government. Theeffects of its censorship are much more dramatic than those of thesports-war analogies, but they are both part of the same problem:forgetting the cold realities of war.

For many fans and athletes, sports are an escape from theoften-depressing conditions that fill the rest of the world. Theopportunity to temporarily substitute the on-field antics ofprofessional sports for the realities of war is an easy choice.

We all need escapes and sports are one of the best of them. So,by all means enjoy it. Just don’t mistake it for something it’snot.