Militarizing the Major Leagues: MLB Game to be Played at U.S. Army Installation

On July 3, the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins will play a "salute-the-troops" game at a temporary stadium constructed at a Fort Bragg ballpark.

It took four months to convert a military base golf course into the ballpark that will be used for the game. According to Eric Hill, chief of the recreation division of Fort Bragg’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, the idea to play a regular season baseball game at United States Army installation came from a retired Air Force general. Major League Baseball then developed the concept and "filtered the plans through the Pentagon."

The militarization of U.S. professional sports has received an increased amount of attention in recent years amid startling reports, like the 2015 revelation that the military had paid professional teams $10.4 million since 2012 to carry out patriotic events and troop tributes. Those findings came from a report carried out by two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona. The report points out that the $10.4 million number is likely a fraction of the total amount spent:

Over the course of the effort, we discovered the startling fact that DOD cannot accurately account for how many contracts it has awarded or how much has been spent; its official response to our request only accounted for 62 percent of its 122 contracts with the major league teams that we were able to uncover and 70 percent of the more than $10 million it actually spent on these contracts.

Although the military has permeated each professional league, Major League Baseball has a long, complex history in this department. In his 2010 book, The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad, Robert Elias details how professional baseball has long tied itself to the United States' foreign policy interests. Elias writes that Major League Baseball has often, "aligned itself with conservative American policy and with an increasingly aggressive U.S. foreign, military, and globalization policy.”

The first story cited in the book is a 1888 World Tour carried out by Albert Spalding, co-founder of the popular sporting goods company. Spalding brought a group of American baseball players on an exhibition tour through Italy, England, Ireland and Egypt. "For purposes of wrapping the game in the flag," Spalding sought the endorsement of President Grover Cleveland.

On July 4, 2011, the National League's San Diego Padres announced that, in addition to launching a "military extension" to the team's website, it had also become the first professional sports team to create a "military affairs department." The Padres are located in a military base-rich part of the U.S. In 2013, Major League Baseball began requiring every team to wear camouflage uniforms every Memorial Day, to celebrate the military.

Responding to criticisms about the military payments in May 2015, National Guard Bureau spokesperson Maj. Earl Brown said that:

"The intent of these advertising partnerships is to promote the (National Guard) brand within the thousands of communities in which we serve that results in increased awareness of opportunities the (National Guard) has to offer...The (Army National Guard) is not in the business of sports 'sponsorships' any longer. Rather, we now maintain advertising partnerships in order to increase awareness and consideration of service, along with generating qualified leads for local recruiters to engage with."

"Teams and players traditionally pay homage to members of the military on holidays such as Memorial Day and Fourth of July," declares a piece on Major League Baseball's official website, "but the Fort Bragg Game will take that tribute to a new level—and a new venue, on the nation's largest military installation."


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