Time to blow taps on football-as-war metaphors


While it’s the norm at the long-running Army-Navy game, an increased military presence at NFL and college games may be one of the reasons “war talk” is part of the football lexicon. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

It’s the first Sunday of the NFL season, and time to go to war!

Except, of course, that it isn’t — time to go to war, that is. However, it is certainly the time of year to talk about football as if it’s the same thing as going to war, which it’s not. Not by a long chalk.

This is the fault of many in the media. Television should get the lion’s share of the blame, but that’s not to say that radio, print and online journalists aren’t at fault as well — not all of them, but many. I’m sure I’ve let a war metaphor slip into a column in the past, although I try to be vigilant, just as I did as an editor, when I would rewrite the lead of any story that tried to frame a college game as a life-or-death battle.

But I was editor-vigilant, not soldier-on-sentry-duty vigilant.

I nearly drove my car into a tree the other day when someone on the radio, discussing the end of the Redskins’ exhibition season, said, “Now the real season begins, and they’ll be using live ammo.”

Gosh, I hope that’s also Bullet-Proof Vest Day at FedEx. I also hope no one is firing “bullets” over the middle, or rolling down the field “like a tank battalion.” (These are things I’ve heard; I’m not making them up.) And I really hope no one is battling “in the trenches.” Because if they dig a trench in the field at FedEx, Brandon Banks may be lost. I mean literally lost, not lost to injury or lost on the Beltway. And I don’t mean he will have gone AWOL.

Coaches spout a lot of this war-speak, and the players spout what they hear their coach spout. That’s why you’ll get the postgame quotes such as, “It was a war out there” or “It was kill or be killed.” Commentators use it as well, and then it becomes part of the fans’ vocabulary. New terminology is added to the football dictionary all the time. “Red zone” used to be an area in which you could not park; now it has its own television channel.

Certain “war talk” is part of the football lexicon, such as “blitzing” and “bomb.” I’m not suggesting those be removed from the national discourse. I am suggesting we not add to the list. We should be better than that.

Perhaps one reason for all this tough talk comes from the increased military presence at NFL games. Teams (and not just those in the NFL) give seats to veterans and honor them on the scoreboard. There are flyovers, and huge flags unfurled by members of all branches of the military. Heck, fans can buy camouflage gear adorned with the logo of their favorite sports team (and don’t tell me it’s for hunting; if you go in the woods around here in Cowboys cammo, you might not come out).

This recognition of the sacrifices of our men and women in the military is wonderful, and I wouldn’t change any of it. I would, however, stop comparing what our soldiers do or did in Iraq and Afghanistan with what well-paid athletes do for one-third of a year. On Sundays.

War is hell. Football is a game. It’s insulting to portray football as war, just as it’s insulting to portray war as a game. Let’s all try harder not to confuse the two.

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