The Pinstripe Patriot Act
By Dave Zirin
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
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
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
For a while after 9/11, "God Bless
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
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
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.
for trying to go to the bathroom at a politically
incorrect moment," said Donna Lieberman, executive
director of the
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
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
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
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
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
His writing has appeared in the
Sports Illustrated.com and The Progressive. He is the
host of Sirius/XM's Edge of Sports Radio.