Sunday, February 3, 2013

War, Sports, and Childbirth

On occasion I catch snippets of sporting events while walking past the television en route to the laundry room or doing some similar domestic task. It seems like whenever I do tune in, I'll end up doing an eye roll because of the insane overuse of military terms by players and commentators when talking about the actions on the field. Trust me, tune into the Superbowl and you won't have long to wait before you hear someone talking about one team "battling back" or referring to players as "warriors."  Back during the playoffs, Robert Griffin III, the Redskins quarterback continued to play on an obviously injured knee against the Seattle Seahawks. Redskins coach, Mike Shanahan received a lot of criticism for the decision to allow Griffin to play. Griffin tweeted in defense of his coach, "Many may question, criticize & think they have all the right answers. But few have been in the line of fire in battle." 

Aspirational, but sadly unlikely.

Football players aren't the only ones who pull this kind of thing. Thanks to Google I found that a couple of years ago, LeBron James tweeted this: "20+ games left in phase 2. I'm ReFOCUSED. No prisoners, I have no friends at WAR except my soldiers." This makes me even more sympathetic to the Gitmo prisoner wanted James to apologize to the people of Cleveland for leaving for Miami. The basketball fan/terror suspect should have added James's first grade teacher to the apology because of his crazy capitalization. The way I found the tweet-quote is that the father of a Marine serving in Afghanistan wrote an open letter to James that was published in the newspaper. In his letter, the Marine father correctly pointed out that, "You travel to your games in the comfort of a chartered plane. You go home to an opulent mansion. You have little danger of coming home in a flag-drapped box." Take that to the basket, LeBron. 

Maybe the athletes have resorted to military terms because we, the people who are not professional athletes co-opted their sports terminology. If you’ve ever worked in an office then you’ve heard it: “You’ve got to step up to the plate on this one,” or “we’re doing a full-court press,” or the dreaded, “you’ve got to take one for the team.” When I worked as a lawyer this last one meant that your boss was sending you to a suburban Cincinnati office park for the next two years where you would review documents and watch your chances of making partner dwindle down to nothing. Sports analogies and references are so pervasive in offices today that you almost forget that they have actual sport-related meanings.  When someone says, “here’s the game plan,” it doesn’t even register that you are actually creating a PowerPoint presentation and not playing a game.

I'm sure this is how my kids picture me when I do something to embarrass them.
I had a friend in college whose overuse of sports analogies was only rivaled by his misuse of the word "literally." As in: "I've literally got to step up to the plate and hit this one out of the park." I'd sigh because we'd be in his kitchen and he'd be talking about an economics test. I've noticed that a lot of former athletes still use sports terms, I guess because all those years of listening to coach pep talks made a greater lasting impression than their English literature classes. The other possibilities is that these people could also be harkening back to the glory days of j.v. baseball, which is kind of depressing in a John Cougar Mellencamp kind of way. 

Did you all know they were dating?
I tried to think of some other genres of analogies that are as pervasive in our culture as sports and warfare and I couldn't come up with anything. It kind of bugs me because (feminists hold your fire) team sports and the military are traditionally male-dominated pursuits and that's where we get these expressions. There's an old adage that war is boredom punctuated by sheer terror which is probably why some woman once said that a woman's version of war is childbirth. (I searched to find out who originally said this, but couldn't find any attribution which may mean that I said it and just quoted myself.) So, if childbirth is all-girl warfare, should things associated with childbirth get woven into our lexicon? I'm going to say no, because while I know there are women who treasure their childbirth stories, many others (me, included) are happy to have been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt: 

While I think that war and sports analogies are annoying and probably more than a smidgen sexist, I'm not so irritated that I want "that baby's crowning," to be a common expression that means you're almost ready.

Sorry, ladies. I'm just not going to bat for us on this one.  


  1. Hilarious and so true! Love the letter to LeBron James. It must be all so insulting to people who have faced real battle. And I agree, let's keep the child birth references to a minimum. I think we're supposed to black out that stuff anyway, so we'll keep having more babies. :)

    1. Thanks! Yes, the birth rate is already on a decline. The last thing that we need is a way to depress it further!