Surprise Military Reunions At NFL Games Reach Peak Bullshit

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During last weekend’s preseason St. Louis Rams game, a familiar ritual played out: With a stadium full of fans and a television audience watching, Rams cheerleader Candace Ruocco Valentine was surprised by the arrival of her husband August Valentine, a Marine Corps first lieutenant, who had just returned home from service abroad.

As a series of visuals, shown in the video below, it was a sterling example of the genre. The All-American cheerleader literally drops her pom-poms to run toward her husband, relief written across her face as she does; the happy young couple embraces; and Rampage, an anthropomorphic ram, looks on approvingly at their release from anxiety and fear.


As a set of facts, though, the heartwarming moment was basically bullshit, despite which the viral glurge machine went ahead and ran with the story of a joint triumph for the Valentines, the St. Louis Rams, the NFL, and the Pentagon. SB Nation got in on it:

And so did Sports Illustrated:


And so did For The Win, USA Today’s brand liaison:


These headlines accurately capture what’s imparted in the story-like objects over which they run, which tell the tale of the St. Louis Rams surprising a cheerleader with the return of her military husband from service overseas. As far as we can tell, every element of it is true. It could also be described rather differently.

Candace Ruocco Valentine is in fact a cheerleader for the St. Louis Rams. She made her debut this past weekend, at the very game at which her husband surprised her with his return from abroad. She’s several other things as well: a first lieutenant in the USMC (without wanting to scrutinize the gender politics of something that involves Rampage the Ram too closely, one might wonder why no headline writer went with “Husband Surprises Military Wife At Her Job”); a former White House intern who worked under Laura Bush; and a member of the Ruocco family, which is heavily involved in Illinois Republican politics.


August Valentine, meanwhile, is in fact a first lieutenant in the USMC. He made his surprise return to St. Louis, though, not from, say, the anxiety and peril of a security mission in Anbar province, but from a posting in South Korea, where combat operations wound down 62 years ago. He also happens to be not some anonymous leatherneck but a member of the galactically wealthy Busch family, which built the Anheuser-Busch corporation and, years after the sale of the business, retains incredible power in St. Louis. Valentine’s maternal grandfather, Gussie Busch, is generally credited with building the family business into the biggest brewery in the world; the Rams at one point played in a stadium named for the family.

For perspective, the happy couple had their wedding ceremony at the Vatican. That isn’t to say that rich people don’t deserve nice moments, or that their Rampage-approved emotions are less authentic than anyone else’s, but, along with other basic information about the two, it does slightly complicate the story of a photogenic NFL cheerleader being surprised by her photogenic military husband’s surprise return from service at the football game. So does one of Candace Ruocco Valentine’s Facebook posts, in which she lauds not only the Rams for their efforts to make this reunion happen, but “the mom-with-a-plan: Mrs. Katherine Ruocco.”


Speaking of plans, that would be the same Katherine Ruocco who is running for a state representative’s seat in Illinois, and who now has a patriotic viral video featuring her family—lately seen on Fox News—to share on her campaign’s official Facebook page.


It makes sense that an NFL team would go out of its way to do something special for a member of one of the most powerful families in America instead of, say, a local grunt who’d served in a combat zone, because these reunions really aren’t orchestrated and televised for the benefit of the soldiers and families involved. They are done because cozying up to the military is a good way for the NFL to market itself as a noble civic endeavor while making some extra money, and because the American football-loving public loves a chance to share in a bit of un-earned catharsis—watching two smiling, photogenic soldiers embrace in relief is a great way to forget about all the bodies that have piled up. If a given reunion happens to basically be a viral political ad—and given that Candace Ruocco Valentine is not only the member of two connected families and a former White House intern but has pursued or is pursuing both a JD and a doctorate in public policy analysis, one suspects that this moment may be shared on some campaign page of her own before too long—it’s hard to be too put out. That is, after all, what they all are.

h/t Andrew