Military Flyovers at NFL Games Are Ridiculous

There is no broadcast team more pleased with their own stentorian authority than NFL announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Buck is an American legacy, the son of legendary play by play man Jack Buck. Aikman, the handsome, blond former star quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, might as well be Captain America’s uncle. These two voices of the heartland were caught on a hot mic speaking the kind of truth that they never would have dared utter on the airwaves.

During Sunday’s game in Tampa, military fighter jets flew over Raymond James stadium, something as normalized in the world of the NFL as 10-dollar beers. Aikman, in a moment of assumed privacy, as Samer Kalaf at the website Defector revealed, said, “That’s a lot of jet fuel just to do a little flyover.” Buck responded, “That’s your hard-earned money and your tax dollars at work!” Aikman rejoined, “That stuff ain’t happening with [a] Kamala-Biden ticket. I’ll tell you that right now, partner.”

The outrage merchants on social media lost their collective bearings. Here are Buck and Aikman in all their red, white, and blue branding, disparaging something as “patriotic” as a military flyover. Troy, even more outrageously, then seems to tip his hat to a “Kamala-Biden ticket” (although that could certainly be interpreted as a dig at Biden-Harris by saying Harris’s name first, not to mention he could be saying that such patriotic ritual would suffer under a Democratic administration. It’s all open to interpretation.)

On Tuesday, Aikman sought to clarify his comments on Twitter:

I love a flyover but It was odd to see one over a mostly empty stadium but I am an unwavering patriot that loves this country, has always respected our flag, supported the men and women in the armed forces as well as those in uniform who serve & protect and for anyone to suggest otherwise doesn’t know me, my beliefs or what I have stood for my entire life.

He then added, as if the point would not be clear enough, an American flag emoji.

It’s a damn shame—albeit a predictable one—that Aikman would backpedal with the alacrity of Marlon Humphrey. “Hot mic Troy” is absolutely correct that military flyovers are a terrible waste of money and an ozone-tearing amount of fuel. These flyovers are rooted in a financial and commercial partnership between the NFL and the military for which the taxpayers foot the bill. The implicit message is, as George Carlin taught us, “Football is war.” Objections to this state of affairs should not be considered “partisan.”

No one in NFL-land wants to be an apostate toward fealty to the military, in part because the owners have spent the past four years slandering a certain exiled quarterback for being “anti-military” after he he dared take a knee during the anthem to protest racist police violence. No one can be seen as “against the troops,” but this flyover practice definitely demands criticism. In 2015, Radm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary and spokesman for the secretary of defense, said of Super Bowl flyovers, “There is a minimal expense involved.… I think the whole thing, soup to nuts for the flyover, will cost something in the neighborhood of $80,000.”

That doesn’t seem very minimal when millions have been pushed into poverty since the start of the pandemic and hospitals still scrounge for personal protective equipment. For the military, however, this is money well spent. The spectacle acts as publicity, which matters for both recruitment as well as making people feel warm and fuzzy about an institution that gobbles up hundreds of billions of dollars in tax money every year. In 2008, Blue Angels press officer Tyson Dunkelberger told the Los Angeles Times, “For the publicity aspect of it, I’d say it’s definitely well worth it when you consider the cost to advertise during the Super Bowl. The more people see our blue jets and recognize the Navy, the better it is for us.”

These flyovers are a not-so-cheap ploy to drum up recruiting and burn a ton of fossil fuels on our dime. Objections to this should not be controversial. But the NFL has wrapped itself so tightly in the military that to publicly criticize the ritual is akin to criticizing not just the NFL but the United States of America. This is twisted beyond comprehension. End the flyovers. End the NFL’s obsession with the military. And while we are at it, defund the Pentagon, protect the environment, and rebuild this desiccated husk of a country.

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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