Don't Kill The Mellinger

Why saying thanks to that soldier may not mean what you intend

The Chiefs received $125,000 from the Missouri National Guard in 2011 for a one-time advertising deal, but tributes to the military, such as displays including this flag presentation with soldiers from Fort Riley during a 2009 halftime show, are unpaid, according to the team.
The Chiefs received $125,000 from the Missouri National Guard in 2011 for a one-time advertising deal, but tributes to the military, such as displays including this flag presentation with soldiers from Fort Riley during a 2009 halftime show, are unpaid, according to the team. THE KANSAS CITY STAR

One of the great things about sports is that it is universal, good and bad, so of course at some point the conversation with military officers turned to football.

These men and women were as impressive as you would expect, kind enough to ask me questions, and more than bright enough to teach me a lot about processes, theories, and organization operations.

The news had just come out that NFL teams accepted more than $5 million from the Department of Defense from 2011-14 for advertising, some of which was made to look like genuine salutes.

It's worth noting here that the Chiefs were one of the 14 teams to be paid, but released a statement that their agreement was about advertising and not tributes.

Either way, in talking with these officers, I was curious what they thought about the relationship between professional sports and the military.

It seems to me to have been commodified at some point, and too often pro sports are trying to associate with the military's respect, values and courage in a way that feels insincere and overly commercialized.

I said this, and saw a lot of nodding heads from the officers. I asked if that bothered them.

“No.”

“No.”

“Not really.”

Then, one of them said something I wasn't expecting.

I don't have his words exactly, but his message was clear.

He talked about wearing his uniform through airports, and of being annoyed at the well-intentioned thanks from strangers.

To him, he's doing his job.

“I chose to do this,” he said.

The man expressed a deep frustration with the scene, and there seemed to be a consensus agreement with his sentiment.

To me, this is a byproduct of sports' movement to monetize the support and respect that the overwhelming majority of Americans rightfully feel for the men and women who protect our freedoms.

One of the officers brought up the ugly scenes of soldiers returning from Vietnam, theorizing that this is the pendulum swinging too far the other way.

Soon enough, he thought, we'll be closer to the middle.

I know this is just one conversation with a small sample of our military, but it did leave me with a distinct reminder that what one person thinks is a kind gesture can sometimes be taken by the other side as condescending, misguided and misplaced.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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