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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 27, 2003

Trying to relate the ultimate game plan

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

We have known for some time that those around sports — fans, media, coaches, players, etc. — would sometimes have trouble expressing themselves if vocabularies were suddenly purged of all military terms and war references.

Imagine, for example, a basketball game being broadcast without talk of "long bombs" and "sharpshooters." Picture the NFL draft show without its ubiquitous "war rooms" or a baseball lineup in which there were no allusions to "big guns," "bullets" or "flame throwers."

So much a part of the lexicon have they become that only now, when war rages and we grasp its horror and terrible toll, are we prompted to step back and really consider their misapplication.

But as the battles in Iraq continue, it is also becoming clear that in attempting to make understood various facets of the fighting to the widest TV constituency that a sports vocabulary goes a long way, too.

Whether you are a retired general or a network anchor — and what's a telecast without both these days? — sports has increasingly come to provide a handy point of metaphorical reference.

A retired colonel on Fox News the other day described the preparation for the Battle of Baghdad in football terms, talking of the necessity of having all the coalition units arrayed in their positions like an "offensive line" and ready when "the ball is snapped."

More than one general lately has sounded like a football coach in equating airpower as the "passing game" and infantry as the "ground game" in describing how best to attack a defense.

TV telestrators, those devices made popular by John Madden to sketch football plays and illustrate strategy, are now the tools of choice for the legion of retired officers turned network analysts.

They have not only embraced the technology like the retired football coaches who populate the TV booths during the NFL season, they've taken a football commentator-like approach and terminology to explaining it, too.

For example, a retired general on one of the networks recently sought to illustrate the positioning of some units of the Iraqi Republican Guard as if they were in a 4-3 defense. If the network hadn't gone to commercial break, you half expected he would have drawn up a zone blitz next.

You can't help thinking the world will be safer when the TV screen is returned to former football coaches sounding like generals rather than the other way around.