The marriage of sports and war

Tue, Jan 12
Troops Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty ImagesAs soldiers play football, it's time to look at the relationship of sports and war.

Blitzes, bombs, Kellen Winslow, Jr.-as-[expletive]-soldier: the sports world has a long, inglorious history of using inappropriate war metaphors, comparisons so stupid and trivializing that the NFL explicitly backed away from them last year, with league commissioner Roger Goodell calling the move "a matter of common sense."

Perhaps it's time to reconsider.

According to a New York Times report, the United States military has a drone problem -- specifically, with so many unmanned, camera-equipped Predators and Reapers patrolling the skies of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, pilots and other decision-makers are flooded with raw battlefield surveillance video. How to make sense of it all? How to pick targets, track suspects, distinguish between friend and foe, between enemy insurgents and harmless wedding parties?

Solution: turn to television sports production trucks.

Football broadcasters have long benefited from specialized software that allows them to quickly organize and utilize real-time video information -- think instant replays, player-specific highlights, infographics -- and the U.S. Air Force is installing a $500 million computer system that works in similar fashion. Only that's not the scary part. The scary part is that military analysts reportedly spent time inside broadcast vans outside NFL stadiums, studying how TV crews tagged Tom Brady. The scary part is that newer Air Force handheld video receivers already have telestrator technology, allowing officers to circle people and vehicles of interest, the same way a Cris Collinsworth can sketch out a post route.

The upshot? War is now sports. Once-regrettable metaphors have become fair game. Everyone who blasted Winslow for calling himself a soldier owes the prescient tight end an apology. And the next time the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs addresses Congress with a play-calling sheet covering his mouth, the next time the Pentagon names a war plan after a zone blitz or something -- the way the Nixon White House once dubbed a Vietnam bombing campaign "Operation Linebacker" -- we'll know why.