On September 6, at Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg, four members of the recently relocated Winnipeg Jets stepped out of a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) transport plane in the official unveiling of the team’s new jerseys. The choreographed spectacle, not to mention the RCAF-inspired logo that now adorns the Jets’ jerseys, made overt the ties between professional sport and the military—a relationship that has a long history in North America. The choice to link the new team with the Canadian Forces was polarizing, with some decrying the decision and many others supporting it. The Jets organization, meanwhile, pronounced it a tribute both to the RCAF and to the aviation heritage of Winnipeg.
The new Jets jersey, and the manner in which it was introduced, are but one example of the increasing intertwining of professional sports franchises in Canada and the United States with their respective national militaries. From the playing of God Bless America to “honour the troops” at MLB games to features on US military members during NFL broadcasts, one need not look very hard to find overt evidence of these links.
Why do such strong ties between professional sport and the military exist? How are these links popularly represented? What are the political and social implications of this relationship? These are all important questions that are asked far too infrequently in popular discussions about sport. And they are questions that, in the coming weeks, Hockey in Society will be exploring. While the broader spectrum of North American sport will certainly be considered, the specific focus will remain on hockey and the Canadian military.
I aim to explore this topic from a variety of angles to develop an understanding of how, why, and to what extent the institutions of sport and the military became enmeshed. While I have my own opinions on the matter, I am attempting to keep this investigation as balanced and open-ended as possible and to allow you, the reader, to draw your own conclusions from the research. My current plan is to present this exploration in five parts, all of which will hopefully be posted within a month or two. Here is the form I expect this project to take:
- Part 1 – The history of militarism and hockey
- Part 2 – The symbolic importance of nicknames and logos
- Part 3 – The use of martial language in hockey
- Part 4 – Hockey and Canadian militarism since 9/11
- Part 5 – Why does the military-hockey relationship matter?