I can’t say I know what Colin Kaepernick is going through, putting himself into the maelstrom for taking a stand (actually a sit) for the National Anthem, but I make a similar statement as I do not stand for “God Bless America” and the results are often hilarious.
It’s become legendary in my family that if we go to a Mets game held on a Sunday there will be a moment of reckoning because I will refuse to stand for Irving Berlin’s song. And entertainment will ensue.
Firstly, I hate that song. Just musically it’s hacky, I much prefer “Sweet Caroline” if the team feels compelled have to play a song between innings. “I’m a Believer” was very popular at the stadium too, and doesn’t that Monkee’s song pretty much express what “God Bless America” expresses in a more catchy way with a cool guitar riff? Secondly, as an atheist the sentiment of the damn song, which is treacly and jingoistic before we even bring God into it, can mean nothing to me. There’s many ways to celebrate the idea of America without “blessing” it.
I would certainly stand for “This Land is Your Land” but that song has probably never been played in a baseball stadium because somehow the idea of the commonwealth is politically questionable, possibly communist. We’re a country based on private property so asserting that it belongs to all of us is subversive. It’s safer to invoke God. Ironically, that was also what the 9/11 terrorists that began it all felt.
The story of how baseball adopted Irving Berlin’s song as a Sunday ritual after 9/11 is as silly and defensive as how the words “under God” were inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance during the McCarthy era. Somehow 9/11 reminded us that we were Americans and that we should do something at sporting events to celebrate that collectively. Because standing and playing the National Anthem is sooooo mindlessly obligatory that we forget that that is exactly the sort of assertion of our common American citizenship that they were looking for, but we already did that so… doesn’t count.
It is remarkable how angry people get when you do not stand up for a song. It’s just a song. But when you do not stand up for it they act as if you are shitting on them personally. Old ladies will glare at you and signal you to get up, their flabby arms flapping self-righteously. Men have threatened me, sputtering McCarthyite nonsense about leaving the country if I hate it so much. Which is what Trump said to Kaepernick. I will tell them that “I love the country but I loathe this song” and “I am exercising my freedom as an American, to sit.” They scrunch up their faces and want to hit me so bad you can feel it through their knitted eyebrows. One guy got so worked up I think he really would have taken a swing at me if his 5 year old wasn’t sitting between us. As it is he cursed me like a blue streak and then when I told him to sit the fuck down he said:
Him – “you dare to curse in front of my kid.”
Me – “you just cursed in front of him.
Him – “don’t you dare call me a liar in front of my kid!”
(Understand that all through these confrontations, the people with me are giggling. I’m trying to negotiate with a maniac to stay out of a fight, and they’re just laughing or stifling laughter. I do suspect that if a fight broke out I’d be on my own.)
I did have one man sitting in front of me, as the people behind me and to my side were cursing at me, to ask me plaintively “what if you’re wrong?” I guess he sincerely meant about God, perhaps he was even concerned for my soul. But I responded, “about what? how much I hate the song?”
So I have a small idea of what Kaepernick is going through right now probably in his locker room as his twitter feed, voicemail and e-mail probably are blowing up with intemperate comments. And really, Kaepernick has a better case to make than mine. America hasn’t been all that great to people of color – any form of protest is way too little way too late. And that song, the Star Spangled Banner, is truly awful.
If they just played some Springsteen, problem solved.