Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Define Patriotism

You might have missed what happened at a small minor-league ballpark in Newark, New Jersey, earlier this summer. During the seventh-inning stretch, the crowd was asked to stand for a rendition of "God Bless America." Three teenage boys declined to stand, and were kicked out of the stadium by the president and co-owner of the Newark Bears, Thomas Cetnar.

Those three teenagers are suing the Bears, claiming their constitutional rights were violated.

While I assume that most Americans would scoff at the claim, I believe those boys have a great case.

Personally, I have never failed to stand for our National Anthem, or for God Bless America. But I would vehemently defend anyone's right to remain sitting.

In fact, it reminds me of an incident surrounding the Dallas Cowboys' Duane Thomas, in 1970, when he failed to stand at attention for the National Anthem before a game in Buffalo. He was booed loudly by the fans, all of whom were apparently watching Thomas, rather than saluting the flag. The next morning newspapers around the country called for Thomas's suspension. My high school buddy and I, though, sent a letter to the Chronicle sports section, defending Thomas's right to sit, and for questioning Americans' support of blind patriotism. The Chron printed the letter, sandwiched between two other letters calling for Duane Thomas's scalp. I cut out the Letters section that morning. And I still have it.