The customary flyover by fighter jets may be absent from this weekend’s Super Bowl; after all, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans is covered. But a military color guard will be on the field during the pregame ceremonies. CBS will cut to shots of troops watching the game overseas. Veterans will be recognized on the stadium’s video boards. And flag imagery will abound, as will stirring renditions of the national anthem and, most likely, “America the Beautiful.”
Sports games — some of the only events that lead Americans to set their differences aside and sit down and watch together — have become stages for large-scale patriotic theater. This is no accident; many of the militaristic rituals we see in stadiums and arenas across the country were deliberately designed to promote unity during times of crisis. But they’ve stuck around far longer than needed, making sports feel less like pastimes than pep rallies for our military or a particular war.