David White

David White: Get your military out of my sports

Bullets are flying at Battle Station: Candlestick Point. We know this because Jim Harbaugh, Commander in Chief of 49ers Nation, dispatched the following report, presumably from a forward position.

"There's a lot of noise out there," Harbaugh called in to KNBR, maybe from a hand-crank radio with Santa Clara headquarters clearly under siege. "A lot of dirt flying, screaming and yelling, sometimes you have to stand on the battlefield and do what your mission is."

Except, there is no battlefield to circle with wagons, no San Juan Hill to storm, no ammunition to dodge between the tackles.

This is a football game, not a war game, and there's a difference. So, let's start this Page 2 experiment with a swallowable capsule of perspective.

Adan Rodriguez knows the difference between stadium turf and enemy ground. The U.S. Marine Corps major has run on both surfaces. The former as your average varsity football player at Selma High in the early '90s, the latter in multiple tours of the Persian Gulf's war theater over 22 years of military service.

"He said bullets are flying?" Rodriguez said with a laugh that was definitely more at-you than with-you. "That's crazy. I know what it sounds like when a bullet flies by your ear. It's an eerie feeling."

Rodriguez grew up a diehard Raiders fan, if only because there is no other kind. He memorized jersey numbers, first names and lasts, colleges of choice, vital stats.

Then, he went to Iraq and found himself in the middle of a gunfight at an abandoned schoolhouse, where the bullets were quite real.

But now that realism is related to two-game losing streaks and frowning media scrutiny. Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? Because Rodriguez sure does after hearing the sounds of a rocket-propelled grenade fly overhead.

"An RPG makes a very distinct sound," Rodriguez said. "Like, when a power line goes down and makes that crackling noise, only you amplify that a hundred times. You never forget that sound."

You'll also never forget that military references have no defendable place in the sports vernacular. It's time to demilitarize all athletics talking points and rallying cries. There are no bullets to fly, dodge, bite or take for the team.

Harbaugh salutes our U.S. armed services and loves war history. He quotes Bull Halsey and Chester Nimitz. He asks no quarter and gives none. We get it: The guy DVRs the History Channel as much as he does NFL Network.

But, please, don't invoke flying bullets in any more interviews, unless you're explaining why your Pro Bowl pass rusher Aldon Smith allegedly fired off warning shots at a house party last summer.

And, let's make sports a cutlery-free zone while we're at it. Rivalries can be bitter without being life-or-death confrontations. Just ask the family of the Dodgers fan stabbed to death after attending a Giants-Dodgers game in San Francisco.

At least in Iraq and Afghanistan, people are dying for a cause, and not because you hate someone's favorite team. Thou shall not kill remains a pretty solid rule of thumb, no matter one's religious or sports affiliation.

"These people, they go too far with it," Rodriguez said.

If anyone wants to still talk about sports as if it's a life-or-death proposition, we have a good cure. Pick up a weapon, stand a post and listen to the winds of perspective whiz by.

About the columnist

David White returns to The Bee's sports pages as the Sunday Page 2 columnist. He is picking up where he left off in 2006 after 12 years of covering preps and Fresno State athletics, winning a national writing award along the way. He then covered the NFL for five years at The San Francisco Chronicle, and became a regular guest on local and national radio and television sports shows. He currently serves as senior pastor at the Porterville Church of God.