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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Naro View of Sports – 5/6/04

Last week Rene Gonzalez, a graduate student at UMass Amherst, wrote a column on the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman. This column had insulting elements in regards to the character of Tillman, which I would not have opted to use, especially since Gonzalez assesses Tillman’s character merely by his picture on CNN. I would however like to discuss an issue of great importance to myself as a sports writer.

My issue here is that regardless of one’s views on the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the media disgraced those mutilated in battle and those killed during the occupation by giving so much credit to a solider because he was a professional athlete.

I must admit, it is not too often that the rich enter into the military; mostly it is the poor and working class who are on the casualty list. Nevertheless, why is it that the poor are ignored in the media? Why is there not a feature on every solider killed in battle? Are they not heroes in the eyes of the media as well? Are they sub-heroes, half-heroes? Perhaps if those soldiers killed in action came from a professional sports team instead of a meatpacking plant, a grocery store, a farm, a fire department, a hospital, or a warehouse they would be more revered?

As a sports writer I am well aware of the high status that professional athletes are given, but surely no professional athlete would condone such reverence for the death of a soldier because of that fact and disregard others because they are not professional athletes.

Interviews by CNN with other soldiers about Tillman’s death supported the same position. “He was just another solider and deserves the same respect for his death as anyone else in Tillman’s position,” said one person. Imagine the insult one must feel when being interviewed by the media about how he or she feels about Tillman’s death. Are they ever interviewed about other soldiers’ deaths? Gonzalez was making this point, though with arguments that are not as good as other ones he could have used.

I would like to suggest that people read Rick Reilly’s column of Sports Illustrated from April 29, 2004 entitled, “The Hero and the Unknown Solider.” Reilly discussed the story of Tillman and Todd Bates. Who is Todd Bates? He is a human being from the United States who became another solider killed in vain in an unjust, illegal, and imperialist war.

Bates’ life was wasted in Iraq. (Not my words, his mother’s words.) Does President Wilson owe Bates’ family and friends an apology? Should his mother apologize for recognizing the truth about her son’s death? Should the media apologize for ignoring Bates’ death? Or should the Pentagon apologize for smuggling his body, along with the hundreds of other dead Americans, back into the country? Perhaps the media owes the apology for not bringing this issue up in the first place.

It’s great that Tillman left his luxurious sports career to do what he saw as the “right thing to do.” But he was not the first. During the World Wars many professional baseball players left to fight in the war and many were drafted, but their sacrifice was of no greater importance than that of other men who were drafted to fight.

The media saw a great story and they jumped on it. They found a way to glamorize the death of a solider and make people feel proud of war. Many Americans ate this right up and who can blame them? War is not fun like a sporting event; it is brutish and nasty, and people are guaranteed to die. Let’s step away from Gonzalez’s poor strategy of argument. Let’s instead focus on the real issue that was exposed when Tillman was painted a hero by the media.

People want to ignore the suffering, pain, and loss that war brings. When working men and women die they are hidden in the media’s closet like something to be ashamed of. When a professional football player dies he is trophied as a hero and war doesn’t look so bad anymore. It becomes something to be proud of. But we shouldn’t be proud of war, we should be ashamed of it as human beings and furthermore we should be ashamed that we allow the media to manipulate the death of one man to cover up the deaths of hundreds of others.