Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Pinstripe Patriot Act

The Pinstripe Patriot Act


By Dave Zirin

The Nation

April 21, 2009


One day last August, Bradley Campeau-Laurion just

wanted to leave his seat and use the bathroom at the

old Yankee Stadium. The 30-year-old New York resident

had no idea that nature's call would lead him down a

road to perdition where he would be accused of

challenging God, country, and the joys of compulsory

patriotism at the ballpark.


Under the thirty-six-year watch of George

Steinbrenner--and now his offspring--the New York

Yankees have always wrapped their fans, like it or not,

in red, white and blue bombast. This is the team that

so loves God and country that it mandates the singing

of two national anthems--Francis Scott Key's 1814 epic,

"The Star-Spangled Banner" and Irving Berlin's 1918

anthem, "God Bless America."


For a while after 9/11, "God Bless America" was

standard fare in major league ballparks. But while most

ball clubs have let the practice slide, the super-

patriotic Steinbrenners have ramped up the flag-waving,

extending the seventh-inning stretch to include "God

Bless America" along with the traditional "Take Me Out

to the Ballgame." Sometimes "God Bless..." is performed

live by Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, but most often the

tune is delivered over stadium loudspeakers via a

scratchy vintage recording by the operatic warbler Kate

Smith, who first popularized the song in 1938. But no

matter who's singing, the Yankees have been known to

cordon off the aisles and put off-duty police officers

in place to ensure the multitudes stand at respectful

attention. (Fans of the world unite! You have nothing

to lose but a long-dead singer and the chains on your bleachers!)


Not only do the Yankees expect fans to stand during the

singing of patriotic songs, but during the Bush era

they virtually mandated fan support for the Iraq War,

all the while extorting tax breaks and other public

subsidies from city, state and federal governments to

build their new $1 .5 billion cathedral of baseball.

(Separation of sports and state anyone?) For the

Steinbrenners and the high-rollers who occupy Yankee

Stadium's $2,500 top-shelf seats, this kind of power

patriotism wedded to corporate welfare must be sweet as champagne.


But as the global economic meltdown has proven, there

ultimately comes a time to put the brakes on corporate

execs--to say nothing of mindless patriotism. And while

some Yankees fans have grumbled and a few intrepid

sports bloggers, like former Deadspin Editor Will

Leitch, have raised concerns, it took one man's full

bladder to hoist the Yankees organization with its own petard.


All Campeau-Laurion did was try to go to the men's room

during the seventh-inning stretch. In swooped two New

York Police Department officers working security

detail, who reportedly roughed him up and threw him out

of the ballpark. Now Campeau-Laurion has filed a civil

suit against the the city, the cops and the team for

violating his rights.


"New York's finest have no business arresting someone

for trying to go to the bathroom at a politically

incorrect moment," said Donna Lieberman, executive

director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which

is representing Campeau-Laurion in the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, Campeau-Laurion drank two

beers and took the seventh-inning stretch to mean he

could actually go stretch.


"As he walked toward the tunnel leading to the

concourse, a uniformed New York City police officer put

up his hands and mumbled something to Mr. Campeau-

Laurion, " according to the complaint, blocking his way

to the bathroom during the singing of "God Bless America."


As Campeau-Laurion tried to move past the officer, the

policeman grabbed his arm and said, "He's out" to

another officer, who twisted his left arm behind his

back, hustling him down the ramp and out of the stadium.


NYPD tells a different story.


"The officers observed a male standing on his seat,

cursing, using inappropriate language and acting in a

disorderly manner while reeking of alcohol and decided

to eject him rather than subject others to his

offensive behavior," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said in

an e-mail reply to my query. This account strains

credulity. If it were standard procedure for the NYPD

to kick out every drunken fan from Yankee Stadium, the

place would be emptier than a John Ashcroft concert at

the Apollo Theatre.


Campeau-Laurion disputes the NYPD account. "Not a word

of that is true," he told Bloomberg News. "The whole

incident didn't occur at my seat. It occurred at my

section when I went to use the restroom."


"I don't care about 'God Bless America.' I don't

believe that's grounds constitutionally for being

dragged out of a baseball game... I simply don't have

any religious beliefs... It devalues patriotism as a

whole when you force people to participate in patriotic

acts," he continued. "It devalues the freedom we fought

for in the first place."


This ugly incident raises a series of inconvenient

questions: why does America feel compelled to bind

sports to patriotic ritual? Why are publicly funded

facilities like stadiums used to promote private

religious or political beliefs? And given the putrid

start of the Yankees's season, shouldn't management be

more concerned with what's happening with the players

than with the fans? All should stand with Campeau-

Laurion until we get some answers.



About Dave Zirin


Dave Zirin is The Nation's sports editor. He is the

author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics

and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and A People's

History of Sports in the United States (The New Press).

His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times,

Sports and The Progressive. He is the

host of Sirius/XM's Edge of Sports Radio.


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