TORONTO — Most Yankees and Blue Jays were not even out on the field Sunday for not one but two national anthems.
All indications were this was not a protest. It was indifference, which seems to be fine with a large segment of the American populace. They are OK with you setting your fantasy football lineup rather than publicly standing for an anthem, but how dare you use your First Amendment rights to protest what you view as problematic issues in our country during that song.
I realize a lot of folks have just begun to scream invective, including to keep politics out of sports. Fine. Then let’s stop politicizing sports by even playing the national anthem or “God Bless America” before or during the games. How bizarre would it be if each day you showed up at work as a plumber or truck driver or lawyer and you first had to stand for the national anthem?
Also, when exactly did how we behave during a national anthem become a litmus test on our patriotism? I mean, if I stand but don’t put my hand over my heart, am I less patriotic than the guy next to me who does? How about if he puts his hand over his heart, but I salute? What if I sing along?
Right, it is all ridiculous. It is a song after all, not a particularly good one. The flag is a piece of fabric. These are symbols. Real patriotism is using your First Amendment rights and defending those who do so peacefully, even if you don’t particularly like their speech.
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to slaughter.” You know who said that? That first president of the United States, George Washington. You know who retweeted it in February 2013? The current president of the United States, Donald Trump.
Does he really believe it?
“We live in a country where you are allowed to express what you want to express,” Joe Girardi said. “It is the great thing about America.”
I wish the president of the United States would say that — and mean it. As the leader of the most important country on the globe, he had two avenues to go down with this issue — open a civil dialogue about what the symbolism of flags and national songs mean or incite a fight. He started a fight. This is talk-show America now — scream loud, don’t listen to others and the most relentlessly vicious wins.
Many athletes have jumped into this fray now, particularly those in the NBA and NFL. Oakland catcher Bruce Maxwell is the only publicly known major leaguer to offer protest by kneeling during the anthem, but he still faced the flag and put his hand over his heart.
Those who quickly defended Maxwell mentioned he came from a military family and is very patriotic. You know what? That bothered me. We too often equate militarism and wrapping oneself in the flag with patriotism.
My father is a veteran. I do think he is a patriot for his service.
But Carlos Beltran dedicated $1 million to help rebuild Puerto Rico. I think that is darn patriotic, too. So is all that J.J. Watt has done for hurricane relief in Houston.
And I think Bruce Maxwell kneeling “for the people who don’t have a voice” is patriotic. He is a backup with no job certainty. He was the lone player to do this, not protected by the insulation of a crowd. To do what he did took a combination of conviction and valor that should be at the core of our national belief system.
Remember those who are protesting are not doing so against the flag or a national song. They are doing so against injustices they see, notably racial injustices. Maybe you don’t see them. It seems our president does not. But it is his job to actually protect those who see them and want to make statements about it, and it is at the very core of our value system to allow peaceful dissent.
We do live in the greatest country in the world. Not because of a damn national song or a piece of cloth. But because of ideas, none more valuable to fight to the death over than the absence of prohibition abridging the freedom of speech.
It appears in a little thing called the U.S. Constitution.