September 15, 2010

Patriotism and sports

For those outside the Oklahoma City area, you may not realize that we are embroiled in a controversy over patriotism. Not only patriotism, but football--and in these parts, football ranks higher than most things. Of course, those things have been combined for years, but we always have to sing the National Anthem to start these contests. Why? I have no clue. I remember playing that song on my trumpet in front of my home-town crowd (small town). I was scared to death.

But patriotic, evidently.

But if you attend an OU football game, you will hear an odd ending to the song. Where it usually says, "home of the brave," Oklahoma's faithful shout "home of the Sooners."


I noticed this first a few years ago. This is one reason I really prefer to watch the game at home. I love football, I really do. But I hate all the bs that goes with it--the constant pushing of merchandise and need to entertain and then the need to act as if this football game is somehow connected to a sense of patriotism or national identity.

But I have to admit, I was surprised the first time I heard that ending. Turns out, it has been an issue for a while, and with the Air Force Academy coming to town this weekend, locals have been debating this. The Daily Oklahoman's Berry Tramel called it a shame and said that the fans deserved an "F" for patriotism. My neighbor and I discussed it last night and he said that while he himself liked to defer to those around him who were offended, he was rather surprised that Tramel made such a big deal of this. "Offensive," said my neighbor, "was sending our service men and women to die in that war." Norman Transcript's Clay Horning agreed, noting that:
You say screaming “Sooners” dishonors the brave?

Housing them at that rat-infested dump of a wing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a disgrace it took the Washington Post to bring to light, dishonors them.

Screaming “Sooners,” not so much.

I can really see both sides, but what has really annoyed me is the selective outrage that so many conservatives have had on patriotic symbols. When waved by a war protester, they scream epithets and accuse them of disloyalty. If a Democrat dares not demonstrate suitable respect at the flag or anthem, they are called unamerican. But if that same flag or anthem is used to sell mattresses, or to sell merchandise of any kind, not a peep. If in the name of that flag and that country, people are tortured and killed? Not a sound.

I am with the last two people. This is football. It is meaningless and fun--and we already pay way much attention to it. But it has absolutely nothing to do with our national identity. Neither, I would add, does the tattered flag on your antennae, or your "these colors don't run" t-shirt, or "God Bless America" hat. Those are consumer goods--and you paid for them--just as you might buy a gag gift or orange soda. What matters is our constitution, and our democracy. Those should matter, and they should matter even when we are in an economic crisis or scared to death of terrorists.

"Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." It doesn't have to be. But you will pardon me if I am suspicious when anyone trots out the "you aren't patriotic enough" line.

No comments: