God Bless the USA: Flags and Football

IMG_0270

A pillow my sister made out of my old band uniform

I come from a small town in the middle of nowhere that bills itself as “The Gateway to Death Valley,” so imagine my surprise when I saw my high school alma mater’s football team popping up in the media these last few days. Someone had posted a video of the homecoming game a week or so ago that went viral (7.6 million views!), though not as a result of the game itself—despite the high drama of a game in which the 5-2 Burroughs Burros took on the 4-3 Oak Hills Bulldogs and won 20 to 17!—but the team’s flag-festooned entry onto the field accompanied by the stirring strains of Lee Greenwood’s perennial favorite, “God Bless the USA.”

I thought the F-18 flyby following the national anthem was pretty cool, but overall the pre-game spectacle and the resonance it found in certain circles did not make my heart swell.No doubt some readers suspect that hating America and all it stands for is a prerequisite to get the BCC password. But they would be wrong. As part of the high school band, I played the national anthem at every home game. I’m proud of the work my dad and other family members perform(ed) out there in the desert to support the Navy’s research, testing and evaluation of weapons and armaments. I appreciate the public investment (in this case, defense spending) that made rural communities like my hometown possible. Consequently, I believe that taxes are the good-value price of civilization and am happy to declare my income and pay my share for the common good.

Anyway, enough of my bona fides—let’s move on to my objections. My initial response to the video was that the parade of flags to Greenwood’s song was an overwrought emotional appeal that elided the hard and unsung work of establishing and sustaining civic virtue with an ostentatious (relatively speaking; it was no NFL halftime show, of course) display of superficial patriotism. As if the audience were unable to appreciate the powerful symbol of a country that attaches great importance to equality and unalienable rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the organizers took the more cowbell approach to make their point. But in this day and age of America First I guess we are rewarding those who keep things simple: The local city council plans to present the team with a proclamation and $15,000 donation today because, according to the mayor,

I think this is a time to honor the young men and women at Burroughs High School, especially the Burros football team and their coaches, for reminding us that their display at homecoming is a patriotic [word missing in source]. We want to thank them for reminding us that it’s not about politics or just winning games it’s about the patriotism in our community and the respect we show our troops.

Was there any doubt prior to homecoming that high school sports are not about politics or just winning games? That the community lacks patriots and disrespects the troops? C’mon, this is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s district, a community whose very existence is due entirely to the military! A large flag was already flying in the end zone, just like it always does on game night. And, just like before every game since time immemorial, (almost) everyone stopped and gave it (no doubt varying levels of) respect during the performance of the national anthem. Isn’t that enough?

If reproducing the symbol by having every player a flag carry one into the stadium in fact magnifies the flag’s symbolic power, the critic might point out that all these able-bodied players had two hands—why didn’t the team express their full capacity for patriotism by carrying two flags each? At the same time, however, it is clear that the proliferation of flags did cause a stir, and being the broad-minded type, I suppose I ought to grant my fellow patriots some space to “turn up to 11,” as it were, the feelings the flag stirs in them by turning the field into a sea of banners.

And I’m happy to do so because it turns out that the homespun patriotism of a small-town football team is not what sticks in my craw. As the principal noted here, that has a longstanding tradition at the school:

“I don’t know how something goes viral and I guess I still don’t really know how this went viral,” said Auld. “I did not think of this as something that is significantly different from what we have done in the past. We have patriotic events frequently. Therefore, I did not anticipate the attention. I am shocked.”

He pointed out that at the last home game before Homecoming, cheerleaders all held American flags as part of the Military and First Responder Appreciation Night.

“I did not feel as if this was something that was completely unusual for our school and community.”

No, what bothers me is the fact that in October 2017 people across these United States are lapping up this particular display of patriotism when it’s no different in style or substance from past performances. For the Rip Van Winkles among us, the coach provides a clue about what this frenzy for the flag is really about:

“There are studies about teams that take a knee and teams that stand for the national anthem. The results are astounding. The studies show that the psychological part of the brain that thinks negatively about things turns off the part of the brain that allows you to concentrate and do your job correctly. So we knew this positive pre-game routine would have a tremendous effect on how our players would play.”

I mean, you would have had to be asleep on a mountain to miss the reason why news outlets like this, this and this are all over this story: it shows those kneeling professional athletes what real Americans are like. Coach Mather provides some additional detail about the kind of Americans that wave flags:

“We live in a military town and the kids have been frustrated with all the recent events going on,” said Burroughs head coach Todd Mather. “They wanted to show that we are lucky to live in the greatest country on earth and that we ALL need to get back to respecting our flag and national anthem. We wanted to show the power of our community, our teams brotherhood and to stand on the shoulder of our parents and grandparents, who instilled the respect, integrity, character and work ethic in us for this great country and community.”

I understand the impulse to get defensive when someone challenges your assumptions about the good life. I mean, here you are, enjoying being an American, appreciating all the freedoms that aren’t free and so on, and some guy shows up like death’s head at a feast to complain about how he’s being treated. “That’s not the America I know and love!” I might proclaim in response, and I’d be right—people like me are not systematically oppressed or disproportionately the victims of police brutality. So it’s more than presumptuous to diagnose a lack of, say, respect, integrity, character and work ethic in those who might take aim at the seamy side of life with which you have no experience and respond to those prophetic calls (in the Austinian sense: “Prophecy at its heart is a voice of warning—warning that our actions as a society are out of harmony with the will of God”) with flag-waving protestations as if more patriotism was the cure to what ails us.

Of course, the displays of patriotism aren’t really to help the complainers realize the error of their ways, they are to insulate us from their complaints. It’s not like Kaepernick’s willingness to modulate his silent (!) protest from sitting to kneeling to be more respectful in response to feedback from a veteran quieted his critics. And it’s not like football fans have a spotless track record of respect for the flag or the anthem themselves: “Those who have spent a lot of time in stadiums and arenas know that they are rarely sanctuaries of patriotic conformity and decorum.” We just don’t wanna hear it when someone poops the party, and so we turn the music up a little louder, wave our hands a little more enthusiastically and inure ourselves to the plight of those who experience an America unlike the one we know and love. And if you time it right, you just might find yourself riding high on a wave of public and official approbation.

The thing is, shouting down minorites and rewarding those who promote the status quo are things majorities everywhere do pretty well and hardly contributes to making the US the greatest country on earth. The aspiration of liberty and justice for all is likewise not unique but it’s realization could be if we can get past insisting that all would be well in Zion if we could just agree that all is well in Zion!

Comments

  1. Not a Cougar says:

    Peter, I read your article twice, and I still don’t quite understand the point you are trying to make. A high school football team decides it’s going to carry some American flags, people on Youtube seem to like that, and you’re ticked off? Your article strongly reminds me of all the people in Gospel Doctrine who love to talk about how the world’s never been more wicked. That’s a provably false statement, and saying so isn’t particularly helpful. Likewise, while the U.S. has a long way to go in its treatment of many members of society, things are literally better than they’ve ever been for racial, ethnic, sexual, and gender minorities (I didn’t put religious minorities on there on purpose). Castigating people for a lack of interest in self-flagellation isn’t going to inspire change.

  2. While the patriotism at your school might be as it always has been, I propose it went viral this time because such patriotism ISN’T the norm at the school’s of the people who watched and shared the video. And seeing that such a thing exists, perhaps even regularly, was heartwarming to them. Or perhaps, BECAUSE it happens regularly there, people could tell that it WASN’T “superficial patriotism.”

  3. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Not a Cougar, the reason a big deal was being made out of something not at all out of the ordinary was the NFL kneeling protests. Also, telling black men “You’ve never had it better!” because instances of police violence against them may have declined from previous decades (but we don’t really know, because we didn’t have camera phones then, and reliable statistics basically didn’t exist) is kind of a jerk move! (Or, to paraphrase Malcolm X, you don’t get to pat yourself on the back because you’ve pulled an eight-inch knife two inches out of someone’s back.)

    And please don’t respond with “but but black-on-black crime!” (Which is way down from 30 or even 20 years ago, the false claims of Jeff Sessions notwithstanding.) If you can’t understand the difference in kind between violence perpetrated by private citizens against one another and violence perpetrated by the state against its citizens (using their own taxes, I should add–local law enforcement is largely funded by property taxes and sales taxes), then you need to go away.

  4. The use of hyper-patriotic displays to shout down protesters tends to make displays of patriotism disreputable.

  5. The ideals of the American democracy are not so fragile that these hyper-patriots should be sent into such a tizzy by the sight of a man kneeling. The reasonable conclusion is that what the hyper-patriots are defending is something other than the ideals of American democracy.

    Ironically, though peaceful protest does not threaten our democracy, the nutty reactions of hyper-patriots do pose a threat.

  6. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    The use of hyper-patriotic displays to shout down protesters tends to make displays of patriotism disreputable.

    This. Not to mention that hyper-patriotic displays are a specialty of totalitarian regimes.

  7. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    BTW I cannot begin to tell you how stupid a use of tax dollars it is for Oak Hills High School to travel 100 miles to play Ridgecrest in interscholastic sports, especially if it involves the 4-5 buses and 2-3 vans pulling trailers that a traveling football team typically carries (this includes the marching band and the cheerleaders).

    The culture of high school sports in (North) America is frankly idiotic.

  8. This simply shows why everybody in the U.S. should be required to read Catch-22 every year–or at least the chapter about the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade.

  9. Not a Cougar says:

    Heptaparaparshinokh, you would be better served using that strawman as a fall decoration for your home. My point is that yelling at people for liking patriotic displays and not groveling enough is an extremely poor way of inspiring change.

    Loursat, I agree with your point on kneeling, but I’m curious where your comment might ultimately lead. Personally I couldn’t care less whether NFL players kneel or not, but the state isn’t the one infringing on the player’s free speech rights (President Trump’s comments, while ugly, mean, divisive, and stupid, don’t amount to state action in my view). Should the state nonethless intervene to prevent the team owner from firing the player for protesting? If so, how do you reconcile this with people being fired for showing support for less universally-admired causes such as Prop 8?

  10. Jack Hughes says:

    “The use of hyper-patriotic displays to shout down protesters tends to make displays of patriotism disreputable.”

    Agreed. Consider that this was also a tactic used effectively by a certain orange-tinted billionaire real estate developer. On more than one occasion, he erected excessively tall flagpoles on his golf courses (in violation of local ordinances and/or airspace restrictions), from which he flew oversized U.S. flags. And with lawyers by his side, he claimed anyone who challenged him to be “un-American” or “un-patriotic”, and leveraged the patriotic appeal to unseat local politicians who opposed his developments in the first place.

    I’m not the least bit offended by patriotic displays (or dissent) at football games, but some conservatives choose to brandish the flag or appeals to patriotism for secondary gains, and that makes me physically ill.

  11. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    What the hell does “not groveling enough” mean?

    And given the abuses of patriotism over the centuries, yes, a love of hyper-patriotic displays should be taken as suspect. (To say nothing of such displays’ aesthetic dubiousness.) I remember talking with some folks who had served missions in France who simply couldn’t understand why they couldn’t get the members there excited for Bastille Day the way Americans get excited for Independence Day. They couldn’t grasp that nearly messianic French nationalism had led to the country being the aggressor in the Napoleonic Wars (to ultimately disastrous ends) and the Franco-Prussian War (just as disastrous) to the abattoir that was the Great War, and then ultimately to World War II (caused in large part by French insistence at Versailles on maximally humiliating Germany)–to say nothing of the atrocities it committed in various colonial wars overseas.

  12. Castigating people for a lack of interest in self-flagellation isn’t going to inspire change.

    yelling at people for liking patriotic displays and not groveling enough is an extremely poor way of inspiring change.

    Is that how you characterise what I actually wrote, namely: “it turns out that the homespun patriotism of a small-town football team is not what sticks in my craw”? Tough crowd.

    I propose it went viral this time because such patriotism ISN’T the norm at the school’s of the people who watched and shared the video.

    I would like to believe that, but it’s definitely a response to Kaepernick et al. The coach himself talks about kneeling. The conservative sites that picked it up all contrast the hometown heroes with the NFL spoilsports. That’s the context in October 2017 that both prompted the display and fed the interest in it.

    As for whether it was a display of superficial patriotism, I remain of the view that parading around with flags to Lee Greenwood’s paean to patriotism adds nothing to the solemn performance of the national anthem. In fact, it’s telling that that sincere and heartfelt expression of love and support of country was not part of any of the edited versions of the original video used on the news and other websites I perused in writing this post. I even have a couple of friends who were upset that Good Morning America replaced Lee Greenwood with triumphant march music without lyrics in their edit of the video.

  13. Not a Cougar says:

    Peter, I’m referring to the “(7.6 million!)” people who watched the display online, not the townspeople.

  14. I may have been so circumspect in drafting this post that I failed to communicate my point, but let me assure you that lack of interest in self-flagellation and groveling is not my concern here. I’d be content if the self-appointed patriot police (see here, here, here and here, for example) simply took a deep breath and refrained from co-opting the flag and national anthem as a cover for their…let’s call it unrelenting tribalism.

  15. Has no one seen the parallel to orthodox Mormons shouting down doubters and disbelievers. It seems to me to be the exact same thing in a slightly different context.

  16. Just a Reader says:

    A term that comes to mind (and one I HATE by the way) is “virtue signaling.” I hate this term because it is used to dismiss another’s expression of their values as shallow or insincere—as though anyone can really look on the heart of another and know their true intention and feelings. In fact, a few months ago I got in a brief and pointless comment section debate with a blogger who insisted virtue signaling was the exclusive tactic of those on the left, who pretend to care about minorities, etc. purely because of the social attaboys they get in return. No conservative, he argued, has any motive to do this because you must pay a social cost to champion time-honored and noble, but, unfortunately, unpopular and persecuted, conservative ideals.

    Now regardless of the intent of the students and school officials, it seems clear that some are expressing their approval of this display with the openly stated purpose of holding it up in contrast with the NFL protests. And as much as I dislike the term, I find myself, almost certainly hypocritically, thinking that if you are sharing this because you so relish the contrast it makes with the NFL protests, you may be engaged in virtue signaling. A low effort, superficial way of setting yourself up as morally superior to others—preaching to the choir of your tribe in order to feel good about yourself.

  17. Has no one seen the parallel to orthodox Mormons shouting down doubters and disbelievers.

    The first response did, though it found me rather than the majority worthy of opprobrium: “Your article strongly reminds me of all the people in Gospel Doctrine who love to talk about how the world’s never been more wicked.”

    I hate this term because it is used to dismiss another’s expression of their values as shallow or insincere

    The possibility that I am doing the same thing is not lost on me.

  18. The sad thing is that we are going through this a second time, and not much has changed. Lee Greenwood’s song was a reaction to the protests and infrequent flag-burnings of the 60s and 70s, and applauded by the parents of the people who are now upset about the NFL anthem protests.

    These kinds of patriotic displays seem to have in common the idea that America is going in the wrong direction, and that by waving the flag and singing patriotic songs, we will all be reminded of how good things used to be, and turn back the clock.

    Well, guess what? Racial inequality was a bigger issue 50 years ago, but it still isn’t fixed. Women have more equality in pay and the workforce, but they are still the objects of sexual harassment and are grossly underrepresented in the ranks of C-level executive positions. Marijuana was going to destroy our generation, but we now provide more doses of legally prescribed opiates than we have people in this country on an annual basis. We lost almost 60,000 soldiers in Vietnam, but we are still fighting our longest running war in American history in Afghanistan

    To keep with the football analogy, we have marched way down the field, only to discover that the goal posts have been moved as well. But hey, we are still in the game, so let’s keep that flag waving and the music pumping and we will probably not notice it. Because, you know, things used to be better, didn’t they?

  19. Quoting this earlier reply: “BTW I cannot begin to tell you how stupid a use of tax dollars it is for Oak Hills High School to travel 100 miles to play Ridgecrest in interscholastic sports, especially if it involves the 4-5 buses and 2-3 vans pulling trailers that a traveling football team typically carries (this includes the marching band and the cheerleaders).
    The culture of high school sports in (North) America is frankly idiotic.”

    I don’t think it is stupid.

    I live in Ridgecrest, CA. I have for the past three years. It is a very small town. How small? Let’s say I need to see an endodontist. I have to drive 86 miles to see one. Let’s say I want to get to an airport so I can go visit family in Utah or Colorado; I have to drive 151 miles to get to one. Let’s say I want to shop at Toys R Us or Target for some Christmas presents for my kiddos. That’s 84 miles away too. What if I want to take my daughter to a science museum (156 miles)? What if all we want to do is eat at Panda Express (68 miles)? These are the facts of my life. My town is small and isolated. And my kids are lucky. They have a family who can afford to head out of town once a month. But my isolated little town is also a poor one. Many families can’t and therefore do not do much out of town travel. But heading out of town is educational, and extremely worthwhile. It’s money well spent. Maybe my buddy Mark Twain can do better at convincing you of this than I can. Mark says, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

    Ridgecrest is a VERY little corner.

    Away games are a good part of high school sports. It means our kids get to see more places, more opportunities, more people, and more of life. For some of the kids it might be the only way they get to see life outside of Ridgecrest.

    I did not go to the homecoming game, but I regularly attend band booster events at the High School (they do fun, family out door movie nights where I happily shell out $$ for the concessions. So much so that I’ve been named their best costumer.). It’s not all tax dollars that pay for these programs. And maybe if we lived in suburbia where there were 5 or 6 highschools all within 25 miles of each other, I would agree that it was excessive to play a team 100 miles away. But that’s not my town. And those cheerleaders and band kids deserve to see what life outside Ridgecrest is like too.

    I understand that when it comes to tax spending everyone feels entitled to call it as they see it. If it were up to me, I’d find even MORE ways of getting all the kids in my town to different places, because life in Ridgecrest is hard… It is a lot like understanding the sun by viewing a solar eclipse through a pin-hole projection. Limited scope.

    And as to the display of flags. This town exists because of the Naval Air Base. This is the same community that holds a Parade of 1000 Flags every September 11. Displays of flags happen frequently and regularly in Ridgecrest, Those kids were not holding those flags to disparage anyone taking a knee during the anthem. And the community’s love of the flag is not a response to current movements (many of which are important and sparking necessary discussions). Unlike the viral viewing, which certainly seems to be a different statement and beast altogether.

  20. Which flag would you have preferred them to use?

  21. Which flag would you have preferred them to use?

    What’s wrong with the big one already on the field?

  22. David Morris says:

    I spent 8 months in Ridgecrest, July – February ’91 – hot hot hot – but seeing drones shot down at China Lake was pretty cool as was Turkeybowl football at Burroughs..,.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s