Friday, July 24, 2009
From Monday's InsideHigherEd came this.
I have no judgment if the Macalester football player, Jacob Bond, is telling the truth. A lawsuit filed is not a lawsuit proven. But his allegations hit upon what readers of mine know is bound to draw a wellspring of virtually lifelong anger - that being compulsory flag salute. For those who don't click the link - here's the shorthand; Bond was on the football team at Macalester College in 2k6; during a practice, the national anthem was being played on an adjacent field in an activity unrelated to the football practice. An assistant coach told the team to take off their helmets for the anthem. Bond refused. The next day he was off the team.
This is a bright line for me; an area where I see no shades of grey. The idea that someone in a position of power thinks he should be compelling flag salute is abhorrent to me. That someone operating from what he believes is a position of patriotism - of love of what America (the land of the free) stands for thinks that expression of that love of freedom and liberty should be required strikes me entirely backward. And, for purposes of this blog, which was created to use sports to talk about everything, that we continue to see Craig Hodges get blackballed and Mahmoud Abdul Rauf have his house burned down, and Toni Smith receive death threats and (if true) college Jacob Bond get kicked off his football team just for having the temerity to be athletes who refuse to follow political orthodoxy is sad. Sad to me that in the "most free country on earth" I can't attend a sporting event without being expected to salute a political symbol. And that type of establishmentarian political speech occurs without comment or criticism in every venue, in every sport, no matter high or low, and exists without comment. But anyone in the sports universe who criticizes the establishment - who takes a stand against power - they are subject to the full wrath of the Sports Industrial Complex.
It's easy for John Carlos and Tommie Smith to be acknowledged 40 years after the fact as civil rights pioneers, but at the time they were labeled as militant traitors who had defiled the flag. The Associated Press called it a "nazi like salute". Brent Musburger, who I never heard say anything more controversial than "backdoor cover" called them "black skinned stormtroopers".
We love activism. As long as it's past. We worship Muhammad Ali as a civic treasure. Now that he can't talk.
But present day anti-war protests? Present day activism? Present day discussion of race?
Athletes are told to shut up and play. Michael Jordan said "Republicans buy shoes too" and any atheltic expression that steps outside of those corporatized parameters is instantly labeled as off limits.
Hell, even Presidents are told to shut up and play - the Republicans have already sent out a fundraising mailer about Obama's criticism of the Cambridge cop who arrested an African-American Harvard professor for breaking into his own home. And Rush Limbaugh said Obama's comments were those of a "black militant" (demonstrating that Rush clearly has spent very little time with actual black militants. Probably a good choice for him.) Limbaugh later, talking to Greta Van Susteren said
"Let’s face it, President Obama’s black, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder."
Rush is awesome.
(this is the part where I can shoehorn a blog from the other place before they vanish forever. It's sort of fun!).
A year ago, I wrote the following about Josh Howard:
Josh Howard's a forward for the Dallas Mavericks. He's good.
Howard was at a charity football game in July, joking with a group of other young African-American men during the singing of the national anthem. Howard says about the song, "I don't celebrate that shit, I'm Black."
And then he makes a positive reference to Obama in '08.
Howard's been in trouble, that low level of trouble that when young athletes get into, they get hung with a "he's got questionable character" rap - he's had a speeding ticket; he's admitted to marijuana use - drug use drives sports fans bonkers and makes sports writers foam at the mouth; the element of the steroid era that underpins all of it and has been discussed remarkably little is how much of the media/public reaction is based on our demonization of particular types of drugs. Steroids have been placed in the "drugs only bad people take" box along with marijuana; whereas painkillers (like the kind I'm on right now! So good! So warm and fresh and good! Yeah! These Marley songs really have an entirely different meaning when you're high. Did anyone know that?) are a-okay.
And that's the context in which both the immediate news piece and the discussion from Outside the Lines this afternoon placed Howard's comments. Two young African-American sportswriters served as the panel on the program, Kevin Blackistone and Scoop Jackson - neither representing the heavily reactionary preponderance of sports analysts - but both of them talked about Howard as clearly troubled; about his comments as a problem for his employers and their corporate paymasters - the debate became on how heavily he'd be punished - fined? Suspended? Traded?
So - let me understand.
On your own time - in front of just a cell phone - you can't say you don't celebrate the Star Spangled Banner?
It can't be that political expression of all types is verboeten; sports is inextricably linked with politics - hell, this was, note, a football field on which Howard was standing; he was responding to a question about why he wasn't giving the socially required loyalty stance (hat off in silent deference to the political institution that is the United States government). It was a lack of the right kind of political expression that Howard was responding to.
Today is the 221st anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution; if the Constiution has any value, it is in its protection of our civil liberties; our essential freedoms that we earn not by being Americans, but by being alive - the aspect of the creation of the United States that mattered in the sweep of human history, was that it was founded under principles of the Enlightenment, that the rhetoric used in the founding documents like the Declaration of Independence, Common Sense, and the Constitution is that this country (and all countries) only exist to serve their people; we only have and only need governments in order to serve our better interests; the establishment exists for us, we don't exist to serve the establishment. That was the hallmark of feudalism that western society has abandoned in the Enlightenment.
In 1940, Supreme Court Justice Harlan Stone wrote the following:
The guarantees of civil liberty are but guarantees of freedom of the human mind and spirit and of reasonable freedom and opportunity to express them...The very essence of the liberty which they guarantee is the freedom of the individual from compulsion as to what he shall think and what he shall say.
This idea, this idea that one should be punished for giving insufficient deference to the symbols of the United States government, it's flags - it's songs - is precisely contrary to the very beliefs of which those songs and flags are allegedly symbolic.
Josh Howard didn't say "death to America." He didn't say "I loved me some 9/11."
He said - I'm Black, so I don't celebrate that.
I've discussed race in this space before; not only race as an historic ugly part of our country's past (the Constitution that we celebrate today delcared that Blacks were 3/5 of a human being) but as part of our present reality (African-American families earn 58 cents on the dollar that white families earn, less than 35 years ago; not coincidentally, those 35 years have seen two Democratic Presidents, both of them conservative Democrats).
And Howard didn't just say that - he said Obama in '08.
Howard isn't saying this country is beyond repair. He said my voice has been insufficiently heard; there is a candidate who I believe will make this country better - make it into the kind of country whose symbols I might believe better represent me.
Obama in '08.
Now, sure - he did not communicate this message in a serious way. This wasn't a debate, not a speech to an elementary school - he wasn't wearing a suit and quoting Harlan Stone and using polysyllabic words. He was hanging out with guys, making jokes during the national anthem.
And sure, it's hugely unlikely that, once his employer speaks to him, that he'll offer this defense. He'll apologize, face whatever discipline there might be. He'll say he was joking, spoke flippantly, and if he offended anyone he deeply apologizes and will never do it again.
'Cause that's what we do. (edit, and that's exactly what happened, and exactly why this went away)
And given that we spend more time talking about flag pins in this country than our Gilded Age levels of inequality, Obama, if he has any comment at all, will decry the remarks, and say all Americans should salute the flag regardless of political beliefs.
And sportswriters, radio talk show hosts, fans, as they spin through this the next couple of days will trash Howard for earning millions of dollars playing basketball and then mentioning race.
And then it will go away until we can beat up someone else for being insufficiently subservient to the majesty that is King America. (edit - I'm right sometimes)
But before that happens - let me offer this.
I'm not Black. Other than being a non-theist, I don't belong to any group marginalized in American society.
I don't like standing for the Star Spangled Banner. It feels compulsory, conforming to group behavior as we give an oath of obedience to a political institution. I just want to watch the game, not have to assent to the belief that the United States is the "land of the free and the home of the brave."
I'll have a political discussion with you; about freedom, liberty, justice and the distance between rhetoric and reality in American ideals.
But not at the game. At the game, I'd rather just watch the game.
And my watching the game shouldn't require that I give an assent to your political views. It could be that even after a long discussion - we'd still fundamentally disagree on what the United States means, what any country, really, as a geopolitical unit means - it could be that our views of American history, our assessments of the current United States government are really divergent - maybe even too divergent for us to be cool with each other.
This does not bother me.
I would never - ever want to compel you to stand for something you didn't believe - never say "put your hand over your heart and attest to matters you don't think are true."
That's the opposite of what America is supposed to stand for. And I'm an American, like Josh Howard.
So consider the following proposition - if you see someone not standing for the Star Spangled Banner, or with his hand not over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance - consider that you and he may believe different things, and as an American, consider that neither one of you should be fined, suspended, or traded for those beliefs.
Unless they're gonna deal him to Golden St. 'Cause my Warriors could use another big (edit, not so much anymore with the emergence of Randolph - although Wright's pretty good too and Nellie's too Nellie to see it. Goddamn GSW. Why you hate me Warriors? I loves you so hard and you hate me! They fired Mullin and Mitch Rich in the same summer! Goddamn Warriors. If I were a different cat this would be the time I'd sell my NBA fan loyalty on ebay. But I can't - you want a flag I salute - I salute my goddamn Golden St. Warriors. They haven't won a title since before my NBA memory. And my Giants have never won a Series since the move west in '58. And my Niners...well, we got five, so screw all of you. Yeah! 5! 5! 5! Suck on that! Where was I...)
Besides, This Land is Your Land is a better song anyway. That's a song I could stand for.