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By the time the 23-day battle around the base ended, Kalsu was among 75 American dead. He lived 25 years.

The sacrifice is as real as the black granite another yellow-shirted volunteer polishes as visitors walk past.

This is a world away from the pseudo-military ethos that swarms through football today where nothing is more glorified, no compliment higher than a player as a warrior. Play through pain. Risk your health. Battle. Fight. Attack.

Where in a few days Northwestern University will wear Under Armour-designed uniforms against the University of Michigan that are “inspired” by a distressed American flag, but, instead, look as if blood splattered over the helmet, gloves and shoulders. When flags age, they don’t look as if they’ve been covered in blood. No, they fade. All this is supposed to support the Wounded Warrior Project. Supposed to honor veterans. Hyper-patriotic splatters.

Where well-intentioned special-edition adidas cleats autographed by Robert Griffin III to benefit the Operation Renewed Hope Foundation come with a dog tag and are packaged in a replica of an ammo can.

Where players tuck in camouflage towels the same way they tucked in pink ones last month to remind us about breast cancer.

Where salutes, instead of dance moves of questionable taste, celebrate touchdowns.

Where the NFL boasts an “official military appreciation sponsor.”

The message isn’t subtle: This is much more than a mere game.

“Our cultures are similar in so many ways,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told a group of West Point cadets last year.

The wall tells another story. Games end. They are a diversion, an escape. The wall swallows you.

Down the way from Kalsu’s name, a white-haired man in baggy black slacks and a windbreaker strains to start a rubbing.

“Let me get that for you, sir,” a volunteer says.

“This is my list,” the man says, holding a palm-sized piece of paper covered with names. “This is all of us.”

Tears start.

Story Continues →