As an avid football fan of the University of Tennessee, I have been lucky enough to attend hundreds of games and have spent countless hours traveling across the country feeling one fan’s version of “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Sometimes, in the closing minutes of a close game, the emotions generated by the events on the field make me feel like the action is a matter of life or death. Perhaps, that is why we watch the games to begin with. However, soon after the game those feelings go away and reality sets in.
That is why I have always felt uneasy when people compare football to war, and it happens all of the time. Quarterbacks throw bombs. Defenses blitz the quarterback. Offenses use the shotgun formation. In interviews, players call themselves warriors and talk about going to battle. These are all violent terms for a violent sport, but it is not a matter of life and death. Real war is a matter of life and death, and I believe using the terms of war to describe a game cheapens the sacrifices of members of the military throughout history.
Yesterday, Derek Dooley, the head coach of my favorite team, compared this football season to the D-Day invasion of World War II. He stated that UT is like the Germans defending the beaches of Normandy. The team knows what is coming each Saturday but does not have a good way to fight against it. Having attended most of the games, I believe him when he says the team has a hard time competing, and it hurts to watch it happen. However, it is not the carnage faced by both sides on June 6, 1944. Thousands of men died during the invasion, and a few losses do not compare to that.
A few years ago Nick Saban, head coach of the University of Alabama and Dooley’s mentor, created controversy when he compared a loss to the 9/11 attacks. The words of these two men should teach us something. While analogies can be useful in explaining something, there are some subjects that should be off-limits. War is one of those subjects. We all use analogies in our daily lives; but if we believe something is close to being controversial, then it should not be used.
Dooley’s comments have been written about by members of the nation’s sports media with reactions across the board. Some are offended, and others believe he did nothing wrong. I, for one, am thrilled that he studies and understands history. Hopefully, the young men he encounters learn valuable historical lessons from him as well as learning to be better football players. However, I hope Dooley learns a lesson that the deaths of thousands should never be compared to a sport. Football is not war.