Patriotism on the Baseball Diamond

by Neil Demause , Metroblog — New York Metro

September 8th, 2008

This Thursday, all Major League Baseball teams will take the field wearing specially designed “Stars and Stripes” caps, part of the league’s Welcome Back Veterans initiative. (Barring rainouts, the Yankees and Mets won’t take part, as they’re off that day.) Following the games, the caps will be auctioned to raise money for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

There’s nothing wrong with helping veterans — no matter how you feel about America’s current wars, those returning from battle are in undeniable need of help — but doing so on September 11 turns a simple charity event into a troubling political statement. In past years, New York’s teams donned NYPD and FDNY caps to remember the 2,974 people who died that day (most of them in fact ordinary citizens who happened to be at the World Trade Center, not uniformed personnel), and call attention to the ongoing needs of first responders. By choosing instead to make the day about the wars that the U.S.

launched in the wake of 9/11, baseball is casting its lot with those who say the proper response to tragedy is to retaliate — and delivering a slap in the face to 9/11 family groups like Peaceful Tomorrows that are working to use the shared grief of victims of war and terror to build bridges to international understanding.

Unfortunately, this fits all too well into baseball’s recent track record of enforced patriotism. In 2003, the Hall of Fame barred Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins from an event honoring “Bull Durham,” arguing that it would “put our troops in even more danger.” Commissioner Bud Selig ordered that “God Bless America” be played at all Sunday games, and didn’t defend first baseman Carlos Delgado (now of the Mets) when he was savaged by fans and media for opting to stay in the dugout during the song. And then there’s the recent story of the fan who claims he was forcibly ejected from Yankee Stadium for trying to leave his seat to go to the restroom during “God Bless America.”

Our country, and our city, is still wrapped in an ongoing battle over the meaning of 9/11: Respond to nationalistic fervor and violence with more of the same, or say “never again.” Baseball, like the rest of society, needs to respect the fact that there’s more than one way to honor the memory of our lost loved ones — and they don’t all come wrapped in stars and stripes.

Filed in: Media Coverage

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