fields of silence

Those among us who read both the news and the sports pages should check out "Sports: My Way or No Way", by Murray Polner, published on LewRockwell (and picked up on Common Dreams).

Polner's first line grabbed me: "At New York Yankee home games during the seventh inning stretch, a sonorous voice on the P.A. system asks the crowd to stand – how many brave souls would dare refuse? – for the playing of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." Hey, I'm one of those souls! Polner is being kind. That "sonorous voice" (Bob Sheppard) doesn't ask, he commands.

Polner continues:
Nothing much was said publicly about standing for the song until first baseman-slugger Carlos Delgado, then of the Toronto Blue Jays, refused last year to rise from his dugout bench, declaring he wasn't thrilled how the U.S. had treated Vieques in Puerto Rico when it used the island for bombing practice. Nor did he appreciate America's invasion of Iraq. [ed: Yay Carlos!] This rare act of defiance was unheard of. After all, after 9/11, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had ordered all teams to play "God Bless America," which New York Time sports columnist William Rhoden correctly called "a political statement," and which should have allowed room for alternative views to be aired.

To his credit, Delgado neither caved nor apologized. But the incident revealed why politically dissenting opinions in baseball, football or basketball are so rare. Pro sport figures can say what they wish – as is their right – but dare depart from officially if unwritten sanctioned behavior and you’re a marked man.
I'm interested in why athletes are expected to be apolitical - or at least uncritically conservative. Polner mentions Muhammad Ali, Timmie Smith and John Carlos (the African-Americans who raised their fists in protest at the 1968 Olympics), and the less famous, but equally courageous, Toni Smith, college basketball player who was pilloried for refusing to salute the flag in 2003. He also looks at how Pat Tillman's death was spun.

Polner closes with this:
I confess to naivete. The silence of virtually all our professional athletes in our troubled era bothers me because I'm a lifelong sports fan who sees in their timid behavior a mirror of what is happening in our larger culture. I ask myself: If Hollywood celebrities can take sides and express their deeply felt political views, why not athletes and the rest of us too?

Daily, American and Iraqis are killed and wounded in a war that most Americans (or so report all polls) no longer support or even understand, yet where they (and most mass media) blink at our government's fabrications. Most Americans prefer, in Neil Postman's wonderfully descriptive phrase, to amuse themselves to death and thus ignore the daily tragedies occurring in a faraway place to someone else's child or spouse.
Read it here.

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