Angelo State: Article critique of “The Politics of the Pitch: Claiming and Contesting Democracy Through the Iraqi National Soccer Team”

Posted: May 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

Kellen Winslow, then a tight end playing football for the University of Miami, received massive criticism for mixing the vocabularies of sports and war during postgame comments.
“It’s war,” Winslow is quoted in an Associated Press article in 2003. “They’re out there to kill you, so I’m out there to kill them… I’m a soldier.”
In his article, “The Politics of the Pitch: Claiming and Contesting Democracy Through the Iraqi National Soccer Team”, Michael L. Butterworth examined a similar controversy involving President George W. Bush’s use of the Iraq soccer team’s success during the 2004 Olympics. Using Iraq’s soccer success as a “rhetorical metaphor” is an intercultural communication issue which involves different cultural mindsets, politics and sport.
This is seen in one of the Bush administration’s slogans during the 2004 presidential campaign which stated, “Freedom is spreading through the world like sunrise”. The advertisement, which came after a first-round win for Iraq over Portugal and portrayed the victory, was released while the Iraq war was being fought.
Iraq had not been allowed to compete in an Olympic game since being banned in 1990 and was used as a symbol by the press and politicians. To some, it works well because it showed how through America’s intervention and “liberation” of the Iraqi people freedoms that were once not available were now available for Iraqis. To others, including some members of the soccer team, the appropriateness of the comparison of sporting success with the realities being experienced in Iraq was not accepted. An unidentified member of the Iraqi soccer team disagreed with the metaphor and sent Bush a message
stating, “You cannot speak about a team that represents freedom. We do not have freedom in Iraq, we have an occupying force.”
Butterworth argues President George W. Bush is taking credit for the Iraqi soccer success and also him trying to cast his own cultural values and definition of democracy on Iraq. President Bush’s communication did play well to those who believed freedom was increasing throughout the world and his message was seen in a positive light. His ultimate goal of reelection was achieved.
Connecting sports and politics is not attempted with regularity, while examples of sports language such as trenches, bomb, kill and warrior are commonly used by athletes and announcers as description. An example is in the sports culture with a ‘bomb’ being a pass from a quarterback to a receiver which goes for a long touchdown or gain. In war, a ‘bomb’ destroys objects and severely injures or kills people. The differences are obvious to most, but being cognizant of the possibility of negative reactions should always be on the minds of communicators.
Some will dismiss Butterworth’s arguments as political disagreement with President George W. Bush or political correctness in the cases of sport/war metaphors, but weighing the pros and cons while delivering a message requires knowledge of all potential audiences. Using metaphors can work in communication, but it’s clear from history dangers exist when attempting them. In Winslow’s case, an apology was quickly made but damage was irreversible.
“After speaking with the press, I immediately regretted my comments and felt embarrassed for my family, my team, the University of Miami, our fans, alumni and
myself,” Winslow said. “I cannot begin to imagine the magnitude of war or its consequences.”

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