Mixing Sport, Military, and Nationalism

On 10 October and 17 October I attended the two NFL American Football matches at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. The first match saw the New York Jets play the Atlanta Falcons, and the second saw the Miami Dolphins play the Jacksonville Jaguars. The second match was possibly the best match that I’ve seen in London. But this post isn’t be about the matches themselves, it’s more about what happened before the matches.

As is apparently standard before American sporting occasions, there was a singing of national anthems. While NFL matches will normally only have the American national anthem, as the games were being played in London, there was also the British national anthem. I don’t understand why these anthems are necessary. At most sporting events in the UK, we don’t have them – only when the national team itself plays (though even then, not for all sports). While there is no national team in American Football in the same way as would exist for football (soccer) or rugby, for example, and it is the National Football League, I just don’t understand why the national anthems are seen as a necessary part of the occasion.

There has obviously been much written and said in recent years in relation to the national anthem at NFL matches. This has particularly revolved around the kneeling of certain players, particularly Colin Kaepernick. This post is not about those particular issues. It’s more about whether the anthems are necessary or appropriate at all. Not all NFL players are American or British. Not all of the fans and others in the stadium are American or British. Why introduce something into an event that helps bring people together that has no resonance with so many people? This is particularly the case for national anthems (which, by their very nature is about ‘us’ and distinguishing everyone else as being outsiders), especially if their content can also be divisive, an issue in the UK if you are not a supporter of the monarchy, a Christian, or Scottish (if you have ever wondered why many Scottish people are not fans of the British national anthem, check the sixth verse which encourages the crushing of ‘rebellious Scots’). By the same extension, I am not sure that even the national flags are necessary at such events.

But the NFL in London, takes the patriotic ingredients one step further by adding the link to the military. Actually, this is not unique to the London games. The NFL has many strong links to the military. Many of these are worthy of support. And, let’s be honest, the ‘Salute to Service’ clothing often looks great (as much NFL-related gear does). But, why do we have the military fly-overs at London? They look and sound spectacular. In my seat near the top of the stadium, the planes actually looked like they were coming straight at me. Amazing. Here are the videos that I took.

I have no issue with the military itself. My father was a Lancaster bomber pilot. And I love to see planes fly-over (though I have a preference for passenger planes). But these flyovers have no place at a sporting occasion in my view. These shows of military might, tied in with the use of the national anthems, take us from the domain of patriotism (which as I discussed in my book Japanese Education Reform: Nakasone’s Legacy, which, in part, looked at Prime Minister Nakasone‘s attempts to introduce patriotism/nationalism into the Japanese education system) to nationalism (if it were in Japan, I’m sure the foreign media would call it ‘ultra-nationalism’, as I have discussed in my book Japan: The Basics). Again, not helped by the content of the lyrics of the anthems themselves.

We are very lucky to have the NFL games in London. I enjoy going to many of them as a season ticket holder. But, if I were living in Cincinnati, where the team I support is based, I would be furious when they played one of their home games in another country (there are only 8 or 9 a season in total, so not having one is significant). I would much rather, if the NFL is to continue in London, that we saw a franchise being based here (preferably as part of a league expansion rather than through a relocation of a current one) – or, even better, it being European based so its ‘home games’ were played across UK, Germany, and Spain, for example.

I suspect the London NFL games will continue. But I really hope that the military displays will stop. It’s probably too much to hope for that the anthems will also be stopped.

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