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Patriotism and sports are inseparable. But have we lost something important as a result?

Jul 5, 2013, 2:30 PM EDT

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Howard Bryant of ESPN takes a pretty gutsy tack for a Fourth of July column. He takes on patriotism at the ballpark. He starts by making an observation that, I hope anyway, everyone acknowledges to be valid:

The old conventions of sports leagues and fans coming to the ballpark to escape the problems of the world disappeared when the towers fell. Sports, which were once by demand of the paying customers and the league themselves a neutral oasis from a dangerous world, have since become the epicenter of community and national exhalation. The ballpark, in the time of two murky wars and a constant threat of international and domestic terrorism, has been for the last dozen years a place for patriotism. The industry that once avoided the complex world now embraces it, serving as the chief staging ground for expressions of patriotism, and has codified it into game-day identity.

A dynamic that was supposed to be temporary has become permanent.

But then Bryant questions why we engage in these ubiquitous acts of patriotism and what it all means. And whether doing so in such an obligatory manner has caused us to lose sight of the fact that (a) when we make our patriotism mindless, we lose an essential part of it, which is thoughtfulness; and (b) when we make our acts of patriotism obligatory we take away another essential thing: the freedom of dissent.

And, oh, by the way, sports had long been apolitical and now it’s clearly a place where a certain type of nationalist fervor, however benign in intent, is acceptable. Why, then, is political expression of other sorts so loudly shouted down? Why don’t we want to hear what athletes say about politics and freedom too?

Like I said: gutsy column. But the fact that we recognize such expressions as Bryant’s as “gutsy” sort of makes his point for him.

132 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. sarcasticks - Jul 5, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    Can we all just chill the f*%^ out? I’ve never smoked pot a day in my life, but in this case I think potheads have it right. Who cares? What are we arguing about? If you want to be patriotic, go for it. If not, don’t. If you hate hearing certain things at the ballpark, I understand. I hate hearing lots of things there. I go for certain reasons that make it worthwhile to me. If you don’t, that’s cool too. Can we please just stop the patriotic/historical knowledge penis measuring contest and chill. Let’s all just get together and roll a big fatty. Maybe one of you can show me how…

  2. lawson1974 - Jul 6, 2013 at 12:52 AM

    Craig, your article is dumb.
    One, only you are calling it a gutsy column. To me it is just the normal BS, completely acceptable for media types.

    Two, i cant imagine that this is anythng new, that the ballparks promote love of country. I doubt during WWII that the ballpark was a “neutral oasis”.

    Three, you say there is no freedom of dissent. What a crock. If you hate God Bless America that much, then go to the bathroom or get a hot dog during the 7th inning stretch at Sunday games.

    You act as if recognizing veterans at the game and singing an extra song once a week is turning the ballpark into a venue corrupted by the real world. How pathetic

    • sparky1002 - Jul 7, 2013 at 11:18 AM

      A friend with weed is a friend indeed!

  3. indianbob - Jul 6, 2013 at 7:48 AM

    With reference to patriotic ceremonies, what does secular history say about the attitude of those known as early Christians?
    “Christians refused to . . . sacrifice to the emperor’s genius—roughly equivalent today to refusing to salute the flag or repeat the oath of allegiance. . . . Very few of the Christians recanted, although an altar with a fire burning on it was generally kept in the arena for their convenience. All a prisoner had to do was scatter a pinch of incense on the flame and he was given a Certificate of Sacrifice and turned free. It was also carefully explained to him that he was not worshiping the emperor; merely acknowledging the divine character of the emperor as head of the Roman state. Still, almost no Christians availed themselves of the chance to escape.”—Those About to Die (New York, 1958), D. P. Mannix, pp. 135, 137.
    “The act of emperor worship consisted in sprinkling a few grains of incense or a few drops of wine on an altar which stood before an image of the emperor. Perhaps at our long remove from the situation we see in the act nothing different from . . . lifting the hand in salute to the flag or to some distinguished ruler of state, an expression of courtesy, respect, and patriotism. Possibly a good many people in the first century felt just that way about it but not so the Christians. They viewed the whole matter as one of religious worship, acknowledging the emperor as a deity and therefore being disloyal to God and Christ, and they refused to do it.”—The Beginnings of the Christian Religion (New Haven, Conn.; 1958), M. F. Eller, pp. 208, 209.

  4. moogro - Jul 6, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    Any group pray/sing-along is a bummer. We thought we were alone in public, but you made us realize we weren’t!

  5. dezertfox4323 - Jul 6, 2013 at 10:01 PM

    Trailer trash republicans show up to games with thoughts of guns, pickup trucks and hatred of anyone that isn’t a white uneducated inbred.

    • raysfan1 - Jul 7, 2013 at 12:40 PM

      So being a member of the Republican Party automatically makes one white, “trailer trash,” “in bred,” and uneducated? You think they are full of hatred? Go look in the mirror about the hatred part. It is you who is prejudiced.

    • tellitlikeitisty - Jul 12, 2013 at 6:05 PM

      and yet 85 percent of people on public assistance….vote democrat

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