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William Rivers Pitt | Making Sport of Veterans for Profit and Ratings

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

The Boston Red Sox are on the verge of winning the World Series for the third time since 2004, which, for fans of the team, is the sports equivalent of seeing Halley’s Comet three times in one decade. The last two times the Sox won the title, they were on the road in St. Louis and Denver respectively. Tonight, if they win, they will have secured the championship at home in Fenway Park for the first time since 1918.

I am a Red Sox fan, a sports fan in general, and I make no apologies for it. Quite a lot of people in my neck of the political woods look down on sports, and on sports fans, with considerable disdain. This is, to no small degree, completely understandable; Howard Zinn once noted that America would be a far better place if the people followed the news and policy with the same detail-driven zeal they follow sports. The guy who calls a talk radio show demanding that the government keep its damn hands off his Medicare can turn on a dime, call a sports talk show, and remember the batting average of the guy who played shortstop for the Knobville Derptastics in 1947. The ability is there. The disconnect is astonishing.

That having been said, I am an avid sports fan for a couple of reasons: 1. The drama that can unfold during a really good game leaves even very good fiction and film in deep shade; and, 2. I’m allowed to have a diversion. Frankly, I need one. People who hate sports and call it frivolous would have me spend 24/7/365 tearing my guts out over all the ills of the world, but you know what? I give at the office, every day and twice on Sunday. Sports, for me, are a vitally necessary escape. Without them, I would have started firebombing years ago.

Even when sports gives the best it has to offer, however, it cannot completely seal me off from the grim realities of life in America. The wildly popular war-weapon fly-overs that take place at virtually every major sporting event serve as a constant reminder that America’s business is war, and for the war-makers, business is good. That militarization has filtered all the way down to street level, literally; tonight, at the corner of Landsdowne Street and Brookline Avenue in the shadow of Fenway’s Green Monster, hundreds of police officers in full military-style body armor will be standing post, armed to the teeth.

I know this, because I’ve seen it more than once from my stool at the Cask & Flagon, which sits right on that corner across from the park, during previous championship runs. The police will assemble in phalanxes around the 5th inning, and God help anyone who so much as sneezes wrong, because no one else will.

In 2004, 90 minutes after the Red Sox defeated the Yankees for the American League championship, a 21-year-old college student named Victoria Snelgrove was shot in the face by a Boston cop named Rochefort Milien with a “non-lethal” projectile for the crime of sitting on a girder attached to Fenway Park. She died the next day, eight days before her 22nd birthday. Six days later, the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years, and Victoria Snelgrove was all but forgotten.

So I will watch tonight. All the horror and sorrow and rage and woe is always waiting for me when the last out is recorded and the last second ticks off the clock. If sports do not make me entirely forget these things, they allow me to at least put them down for a little while. The fact that I choose to make a small space in time for a game helps me pick it all back up again. It is, in its own small way, a balm.

At least, that was the case until this particular World Series began. You see, the series is being broadcast on Fox. Beyond the fact that listening to the game commentators Joe Buck and Tim McCarver is the broadcasting equivalent of scraping fingernails across the chalkboard of my soul, beyond the terrible camera work and ghastly graphics, is what they have been doing to war veterans during the seventh-inning stretch of every game.

Fox, along with mega-sponsor Bank of America, has been “honoring” the veterans.

Fox, which did more than all the other networks combined to pour American soldiers into the meat-grinder of war by ginning up support for the invasion of Iraq, which coddled every lie-spewing Bush administration official to make damn sure that war happened, which spread every piece of propaganda they could find to make sure that war kept going and going and going, and which now works hammer and tong to promote politicians whose life’s work involves stripping service members of benefits duly earned in blood and pain, is “honoring” the veterans during every game.

Don’t try to tell me the sports division is different than the news division, by the way. Fox is Fox is Fox, period. They all get their paychecks from the same place, and are therefore party to the galling hypocrisy of it all.

Fox’s sidekick in this gruesome charade: Bank of America, which, along with a handful of other monster banks, illegally foreclosed on the homes of thousands of American service members while they were fighting and dying overseas. In 2011, Bank of America paid out tens of millions of dollars in a settlement with the soldiers whose homes they stole, and now, they are “honoring” those same soldiers during the games.

Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Michael Zacchea served in Iraq. He was awarded the Bronze Star, and later the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in Fallujah. Upon returning home, his life very nearly collapsed in a frenzy of aggression, violence and madness, and he was later diagnosed with severe PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

Lt. Colonel Zacchea knows everything there is to know about that war and its horrific aftermath, and today sits on the Board of Directors of the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense. I asked him what he thought of Fox “honoring” veterans during the World Series.

Ever the Marine, he did not mince words. I quote in full:

The Fox Network remained the unrepentant cheerleader for war in Iraq for more than a decade of war, yet Fox reports little when the overwhelming facts show Veterans Affairs (VA) continues stumbling when it comes to caring for our disabled veterans and the shattered American families created by the war.

Fox seriously harms our veterans by their unreasonable insistence on tax cuts for the richest Americans. The two Bush Administration tax cuts for the top 1% effectively isolated America’s richest 1% from the real costs of the war, which is several trillion dollars and rising. The policies of Fox – abandoning responsibility to all 300 million Americans and our veterans – are a sharp contrast to the common-sense progressive tax policy during World War II.

The current fights in Congress are over who is going to pay for the tax cuts and the wars. Right now, Fox and the richest 1% are avoiding their responsibility as citizens to our wounded veterans. Yes, there have been recent substantial increases in VA spending under President Obama. But it isn’t enough.

Today, with Fox leading the charge, the 1% continue sticking a knife in the back of middle-class America, Main Street, and our veterans by not providing enough to VA so that our wounded, injured, ill, and disabled veterans get high quality and prompt medical care and disability benefits.

Fox should be covering the stories of our veterans who died waiting for VA treatment or benefits. Fox should be showing America that VA needs more funds so our veterans are not left twisting in the wind. If Fox had any moral responsibility, they would be insisting that no American be left behind, be it one of our veterans or any other equally deserving American. The morally and fiscally responsible position would insist no veteran be left behind by regressive economic policies.

I have a better idea for how Fox can honor the veterans tonight. Send Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and all of Murdoch’s other henchmen out to home plate during the seventh-inning stretch. Have them get on their knees and beg forgiveness from the thousands of American soldiers they helped kill, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians they helped kill, the tens of thousands of American soldiers they helped to maim and permanently damage, the families and friends of all the fallen and the wounded, the soldiers who have come home and taken their own lives because the damage done to them was too much to bear, the veterans who lost and are in danger of losing the benefits they desperately need, have the whole Fox family beg for forgiveness for everything they have done to the people they are “honoring,” on their own network just before the bottom of the seventh starts, and an infinitesimal measure of justice will be served.

It won’t happen like that, of course.

But it God damned well should.

Go Sox.

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