The man, who knows I’m prone to being riled, forwarded me an article today. As a man who loves the spoken word but has a tendency to keep his writings succinct (proof, obviously, that opposites attract), the email contained a link to an article and this:
“Bit wordy. But food for thought and resonates your feelings about how nationalism and jingoism have infiltrated the US sport experience.”
So I read the article. And, the man’s right, it resonates.
I was born in the US. I was educated in the US. We said the Pledge of Allegiance when I was in elementary school. Every child learned the proper way to handle the flag. We sang the national anthem before sporting events. Nothing about that seemed odd to me. I had no idea that wasn’t the norm in other countries.
And, the fact is, I like the US flag. I also think the Star Spangled Banner is an excellent national anthem.
In fact, I like the United States. There are things about my birth nation that fill me with such pride and such wonder that my heart swells. Being American is not something I earned, it’s not something I worked for, it’s not something I sacrificed for. It’s something I was just born into. And, honestly, I am glad for that.
I also like baseball.
I like baseball a lot. Some of my favourite childhood memories are of being able to stay up late to watch the Atlanta Braves play the San Diego Padres or the LA Dodgers or the San Francisco Giants on the west coast. My mother and I still, to this day, talk about and laugh about specifics of some of those games.
Baseball, America’s game.
But a few years ago, something happened. And, now, I don’t go to baseball games anymore.
The man’s been a fairly easy convert to baseball. He’s a lover of sports. He keeps the radio on in every room of the house so he can seamlessly follow the cricket matches. Baseball wasn’t a hard sell.
So, when we started spending more time the States, we decided to incorporate more baseball. I hadn’t really been to baseball games in years, so it was really exciting to be going back into real-live-up-close-and-personal games.
And that is great. There is something about being in a stadium watching sport that is just so much better than what the tellie offers.
It was great.
Until the seventh inning stretch.
That’s when I discovered that Take Me Out to the Ballpark has been replaced with a full military show and the crowd being ‘encouraged’, shall we say, to stand for the singing of God Bless America.
Suddenly, that all-inclusive great American pastime felt a whole lot less inclusive and a whole lot less ‘great American’.
I love the nation of my birth. I do.
I am also a pacifist. I do not believe that the wars and ‘defence strategies’ of today are making the world a safer place. Far from it. I believe that the people who really ‘protect our freedoms’ are the teachers, and the caregivers, and the street cleaners, and the fire-fighters, and the emergency response teams who actually hold together the fabric of our day-to-day society.
I also – get this – I also believe that little bit of ‘being American’ that promises us religious freedom. That means we don’t all believe in the same god. In fact, that means some of us don’t believe in any god at all.
And that’s okay. Because the United States was built on the ideals of freedom and equality.
Well, then, why is it that now, when I go to a baseball game, I feel like I’m being given a ‘you’re either with us or you’re against us’ ultimatum. Why is that I feel fearful – yes, actually afraid – if I choose not to stand for the singing of ‘God Bless America’?
Where’s the freedom in that?
I suppose it’s that I have the freedom not to go to baseball games anymore. . . .
I like the US. In fact, I love the US. And I like baseball. And I don’t mind at all that I learned how to handle the American flag when I was in elementary school or that I learned the national anthem.
But you know what song I most remember from our classroom ‘sing sessions’ – Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land because, you know, silly kid that I was, I bought into the notion that ‘this land was made for you and me’.