ROMAN: ‘War’ should not be metaphor for sport

David Roman

He takes a bite of the mashed potatoes and peas his mother just made him, but all he can taste is the familiar mixture of sweat and blood in his mouth. He tries to explain to his girlfriend that he can’t see the road the same way anymore as they drive by a junkyard, but he knows there is no way she could understand. He can’t sleep at night because he thinks about the horrors he might see if he closes his eyes. While he stares blankly out the window, Kevin Garnett hits a fade away jumper off the glass, giving the Celtics a much needed win over the Atlanta Hawks. According to many athletes and sportscasters, both Garnett and the unnamed soldier went to war.

The use of the “war” metaphor certainly isn’t new to sports. For decades, athletes have referred to their respective arenas as battlefields, their opponent as the enemy. Kellen Winslow, a tight end currently playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, attracted major media coverage when he yelled that he was a soldier to the press after his team lost. Similarly, practically any sports movie nowadays uses some form of the metaphor. In what has been considered one of the best inspirational speeches in any film, Al Pacino yelled that his team needed to be willing to die to gain an inch in “Any Given Sunday.” It even has pervaded Villanova’s campus, as every year we embark on what we call the “Holy War,” where our basketball team plays the rival Hawks of St. Joseph’s.

But while we like to make this comparison, these sports are not wars, and these players are not soldiers. Far from it. Name a time when after three hours of battle a soldier could walk back into a locker room, take a shower and say around seven non-descript words to his superiors before driving home in either a Mercedes-Benz or a BMW. In fact, name a situation where after three hours of battle, a soldier could simply decide to go home. Similarly, athletes may have strenuous jobs that often invoke injury, especially in football and boxing, but there is rarely ever a time when an athlete fears death while competing. A mistake on the football field costs around 10 yards, whereas a mistake during war can cost a hand, a leg or worse, a mother or a father. Athletes get paid millions of dollars to entertain us, while soldiers get paid thousands of dollars to protect us. Clearly, there are obvious differences between the two. So why do we do it? Why do we consider sports war, and athletes soldiers?

For me, the war metaphor is used for two reasons. First, it is a way to up the intensity for our sporting events. Nowadays, we yearn for action, hard hits and fouls, glass breaking dunks or a shortstops’s diving into the stands to catch a foul ball. We don’t want finesse or gracefulness, we want to see a close-up of sweat dripping onto the floor as a center swats a ball out of bounds. By comparing sports to war, we are able to add even more action and intensity than there already is. Instead of simply playing week 12 of the NFL schedule, the Patriots can battle the Steelers for AFC domination. The game isn’t a game anymore, but something bigger, something more important. By comparing sports to war, we make each game ferocious and crucial, even when it isn’t.

Similarly, we compare sports to war because nowadays we use sports as an outlet to release our aggression. Within our daily lives, we often need to hold in our anger. When a teacher or boss gives you a bad grade or poor performance review, you will most likely continue to smile at them as you say goodbye while words even Ozzy Ozbourne would be ashamed of run through your head. But when we watch sports, we can release that anger by screaming at our television screens, burning our jerseys and ripping up our posters. Because we use sports to release our rage, we compare them to something that is often associated with violence and fury: war.

However, by doing so, we take prestige away from the true soldiers who actually serve our country, while promoting violence when it is unnecessary. Soldiers make the ultimate sacrifice when they decide to serve, and they should receive all possible accolades, including being the only ones to be called soldiers. Similarly, with sports already violent enough, using war simply adds to hate between teams and fan bases. In a world where war has destroyed countries, sports should be used to entertain and bond, not to promote hatred.

So, don’t refer to the big game against St. Joe’s as the Holy War, and don’t consider our players soldiers. Let the true soldiers keep their name, and let sports be used for enjoyment, not abhorrence. Besides, can it really be considered a war if we already know Villanova is going to win?


David Roman is a junior psychology and sociology major from Windham, N.H. He can be reached at [email protected].