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Recently deceased comic George Carlin had a routine in the 1970s about how unwarlike the game of baseball is, particularly when compared to football.
“Football’s a ground acquisition game,” Carlin said. “The object in football is to march downfield and penetrate enemy territory.…In baseball, the object is to go home.”
Baseball apparently doesn’t remember the act, given what was on display during the Nationals’ visit to Cincinnati over the Fourth of July weekend. The Reds wore camouflage-colored jerseys during the series, abandoning the red-and-white color scheme they’d utilized for the last 13 decades.
Fans 14 years old and under were given replica camo jerseys with “Griffey” on the back, so they could look as silly as their idol was forced to look during the war promotion.
The militaristic giveaway was sponsored by BAE Systems, a large British weapons manufacturer.
The Reds didn’t invent this particular use of camouflage: In 2003, shortly after our most recent Iraq invasion was launched, the San Diego Padres got permission to become the first team to sport camo in a real game.
Even so, I thought it was at least odd, and probably offensive, that the Reds would use Independence Day to help a foreign warmonger sell us its wares. The heebie-jeebies intensified when I learned that a line of licensed Reds camouflage jerseys have now been introduced by an apparel firm named Majestic. The seller’s pitch tells fans that buying one of the shirts, which are priced from $59.99 to $109.99, will “[h]elp the Reds support our troops.” (The pitch doesn’t, however, mention how much of the profits, if any, from the sale of the camo wear will be donated to America’s war effort, or to Iraq veterans or their advocates.)
The Reds’ militaristic promotion passed without any noticeable dissent from followers of either the home or away squads.
I can’t speak for Cincinnati fans, but Nats Nation, small as it is, isn’t hurting for activists. The Nationals’ introductory press conference in 2004, after all, was broken up by protesters upset that hundreds of millions of tax dollars would go to a baseball stadium for a team owned by billionaires.
That mantle has now been picked up by a local environmental organization called the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), which has been bringing a swarm of activists to that publicly funded stadium, Nationals Park, all season long. The green group wants fans to be vexed that the team takes advertising money from ExxonMobil.
“Do you want to have fun protesting global warming this summer?” reads CCAN’s online solicitation for more protestors to join its “Strike Out Exxon” campaign at Nats games. “Do you want to feel like you’re making a difference despite your busy schedule?”
This recruiting effort appears to be succeeding. At last Wednesday’s Nats-Diamondbacks game, everywhere I looked outside the main entrance I could see CCAN’s clipboard-holding messengers working the crowd.
Initially, the group focused on stopping ExxonMobil from sponsoring the seventh-inning stretch at Nationals Park. But from the spiel the autograph seekers were giving last week, the primary aim now appears to be stopping the oil biggie from acquiring naming rights to the new stadium, which are still up for sale.
Alas, the fight to stop “ExxonMobil Park” is probably as pointless as it is well-organized.
The Lerners have made some tone-deaf moves, sure—one way or another, the team can only lose its squabble with the city over back rent. But can they be dumb enough to put an oil company’s name on the stadium at the onset of the $4 Per Gallon Era of American history, just when going green is so in vogue?
Nah. Not with the other sponsorship options available to the team. The Lerners should have noticed the absence of any anti-camo sentiment after the Cincinnati war promo. So the owners should now know they can sell the naming the rights to a defense contractor without the hassles that getting in bed with an oil company would bring on.
These Beltway Bandits already spend a ton on marketing in the nation’s capital. And I’d argue the war profiteers already have a more profound presence at Nationals Park than Big Oil.
The stadium Jumbotron at some point in Wednesday’s game, for instance, showed a group of young soldiers sitting together. Most of the vets had obvious war wounds. Soon enough most of the crowd was standing and clapping.
The ritual, which is repeated at seemingly all pro sports events held around here these days, reminded me of the ending of The Deer Hunter, as a group of damaged Vietnam vets and their damaged loved ones break into “God Bless America.” In the movie and at the game, the mood was far more sad than celebratory.
But, no matter what George Carlin said, there’s fresh evidence that the military-baseball link works for some folks.
BAE Systems, for example.
Two days after the camo jersey promotion, BAE Systems was awarded a contract by the U.S. Army to rebuild Bradley vehicles and provide spare parts. The foreign weapons vendor announced that if the America exercises all “options” in the deal, “the contract’s total value will be $1.3 billion.”
Nats fans, would you stand for Lockheed Martin Field?