The Athletic-Military Complex has not been much commented on in the larger mainstream press but it lies at the heart of much of the Anglo-American power elite's formula of cultural authoritarianism. It could be said that the Romans perfected "bread and circuses" but Western elites have certainly elaborated on the perfection in the 20th and now the 21st century.
There are several aspects to what might be called the Athletic-Military Complex. The first aspect is the most important. The contests in all their pomp and glory are run in an enclosed environment (a field or ring) and the tension is generated by two opposing forces. What is MOST important is that the contest is firmly adjudicated by a squad of referees who have the FINAL word. The paradigm of the marketplace and its plethora of regulators is thus enshrined in Western sports contests, which act as a neat and efficient (and powerful) repetitive metaphor for the world-view that the power elite promulgates.
The elite view of the market efficiently mediated by a regulator (government) is promoted constantly through sporting events. In actuality, in the real world referees (regulators) are entirely inefficient. But the powers that be want to reinforce this paradigm because it helps install mercantilism. The Athletic-Military Complex (syndrome) is intended to support mercantilism, whereby government makes the rules and the power elite, by virtue of its money and authority, has the ability to manipulate the levers of power in ways that the rest of the population does not.
Thus, there is a very good business reason for the elite to celebrate athletic contests and to make them ubiquitous, and to make athletes themselves into cultural icons. By doing so, the elite reinforces mercantilism, which allows it to justify its larger depredations against the free market, etc. (including central banking which lies at the heart of PE power and includes the ability for their central banks to print money from nothing and lever it via fractional reserve banking).
The second aspect of the Athletic-Military Complex that is noteworthy is its celebration of world class athletes. There is nothing wrong with celebrating the artistry of sport but the PE has turned sports into "big business" and athletes into millionaire icons. Thus, instead of aspiring to intellectual activity, young people aspire to become athletes.
This aspiration is far more controllable and comfortable for elites because athletics are not only a metaphor for business but also for military activity. There is "no I in team," consumers of athletics are often told. While athletics do celebrate individual accomplishments, these are usually cast within the context of the family, coaches, etc. Thus the athletic emphasis in Western societies is on the group and group achievement. Overt intellectualism is frowned upon. Athletes are highly sought as spokespeople, too, and their commentary generally can be counted on to be bland and "politically correct." The athletic paradigm is a non-threatening one to the powers-that-be.
Those who do speak out against prevailing memes promoted by the mainstream media or express support for individual examination of evidence or critical thinking on issues, especially if counter to popularly held beliefs, are promptly and thoroughly criticized, often losing lucrative brand promotion contracts. Comments made via the social network site Twitter have caused grave career problems for several athletes just in 2011 alone. These athletes are supposed to be sports stars, not thinking humans, as if those terms are mutually exclusive.
The term that has been used here is "Athletic-Military" Complex not "athletic-industrial" complex. By placing considerable emphasis on regulated athletic contests and by emphasizing as well the regimented presentations of athletics, especially team athletics, elites purposefully present an authoritarian paradigm. Again, the message is that society is in some sense a military exercise, successfully regimented from the top down. Money and power accrue to those who accept such configurations.
By configuring sports in this way, Western elites are able to provide a consistent, militaristic message to viewing citizens, especially to young men, who are an elite target because of the potential generally for violence and even civil unrest.
Sports are generally an effective metaphor. Every day, massive sports contests are put on at great expense. Young men who watch these contests are regularly indoctrinated with the idea that all interactions need a referee (the State) and that any endeavor worth doing is done using a team approach (the resources of the State).
Finally, it is worth noting the ceremony with which many sporting events are presented. Vast sums of money are spent on stage sets and pomp and circumstance to celebrate an upcoming contest. In the US in particular, the Athletic-Military Complex rages in all its glory and the subtleties of its purpose have been cast aside. In fact, more often than not, there are direct displays of military might with air force fighter jets screaming overhead of packed stadiums as the star spangled banner is sung by a celebrated star or starlet – usually standing amongst well-decorated veterans fresh from the front lines of America's latest "humanitarian efforts." The contest itself takes place in a fevered environment and each aspect of the contest is celebrated by announcers as if it were a life-or-death matter – all the while using metaphors that mark their obvious intent. And yet, at the contest's end, and certainly a few days later, the stadium has gone dark and all the articles have been written. No more attention is paid to the event that was positioned as "earth-shattering."
It is as if it never was. There is no lasting impact; no changes have been made; nothing has been invented or even rearranged. This result, too, is a metaphor. The most powerful and emotional contests can occur but society will remain unchanged and immutable. The way things are is the way things shall be. This is perhaps the most powerful and authoritarian message of all to be cemented within the great and growing Athletic-Military Complex.