Someone was going to say it sooner or later, I suppose. It’s September 8th, and there’s still three days to go until September 11. There’s pushback to the near non-stop coverage of a 10-year-old event that is more about reliving it than remembering it.
Dave Zirin, writing on The Nation, focuses on the National Football League’s plans for marking the anniversary on Sunday, but one gets the strong sense his barbs are aimed at a wider group.
From the now ubiquitous presence of military flyovers and honor guards at every game, to the armed forces recruitment stations set up outside preseason contests, to having war-gourmands like General David Petraeus toss the coin before the Super Bowl, to staging Fox’s NFL pregame show from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan (with Terry, Howie and the gang dressed in fatigues), the league has treated our era of endless war as an odious exercise in corporate branding.
The NFL’s plan for this Sunday, according to the league commissioner, is to help the country unite and recover from 9/11.
The last decade has more resembled a sweat-soaked fever-dream than anything resembling a “recovery.” The statistics boggle the mind. More than 6,000 US troops have been killed. Over 550,000 soldiers have put in claims for disability. Among those unfortunate enough to have been born in the countries the United States has invaded and occupied, the death toll has been estimated to be as much as one million lives lost. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons reaches almost 8 million people. The economic cost to the United States has been estimated by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to be as high as $5 trillion. Now everyone in Washington, DC, is shocked that a decade of tax cuts and war has led to record deficits, and working people are told to “tighten our belts.” It’s been an awful decade of lies and loss, and its reality will go unacknowledged this Sunday.
In all the scurrying to make sure “9/11 NFL Sunday” is a day to remember, one name is strikingly absent from the press release trumpeting the day’s events: Pat Tillman. After 9/11, Tillman took the extraordinary step of leaving the NFL to join the Army Rangers. His experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan pushed him to question the official rational for the “Global War on Terror.” He read antiwar authors. He told friends that he felt the war in Iraq was “f–in’ illegal.” Then he died at the hands of his fellow Rangers in an instance of what was deemed “friendly fire.” The Pentagon and the Bush administration hid this reality from Pat Tillman’s family. The NFL, for its part, inaugurated a USO center at Bagram Airfield in Pat Tillman’s name without hinting at the complicated realities of either Tillman’s service or his betrayal at the hands of those he trusted. The NFL’s failure to highlight Tillman in this Sunday’s 9/11 tributes is in some ways a relief, but it also reads like an act of cowardice. His story is a polarizing one that Roger Goodell wants to avoid on this day of “unity.”