My choice is to hold the National Anthem and flag as sacred

Ken Vance Editorial

My highlight of World Series Game 1 was the seventh-inning stretch

I consider myself a baseball traditionalist. Someone who respects the game and its legacy and heritage to the point where I’m usually against any substantial changes to America’s favorite pastime.

For example, there’s a whole legion of baseball officials trying to find ways to make the games shorter so they appeal to a broader audience. I’m not for shortening games. I like the fact that they can last for up to four hours. The more entertainment the better in my opinion.

But, there’s been one change to baseball at the Major League level that I like very much. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks (Sept. 11, 2011), Major League Baseball teams replaced the playing of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game’’ during the seventh-inning stretch with the singing of “God Bless America.’’

To my knowledge, it’s not a requirement by Major League Baseball. The Chicago Cubs, my favorite team other than our home-state Seattle Mariners, still feature celebrity guests singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game’’ during the seventh-inning stretch. It’s paying homage to the late Harry Caray, the Cubs’ legendary former broadcaster, who used to sing his own rendition of the song to the fans at Wrigley Field. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.’’ has also been a mainstay at some baseball stadiums during that break between the top and bottom halves of the seventh inning.

For some reason, this year’s World Series matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros has my full attention. I watched virtually every pitch of last night’s Game 1. My interest was so high that I didn’t even do my customary channel surfing during commercials, which turned out to be a blessing when it came time for the seventh-inning stretch.

As is usually the case, the moment brought tears to my eyes. Mike Dalager, a petty officer second class of the United States Coast Guard, performed his rendition of “God Bless America’’ in front of the capacity crowd at Dodger Stadium and to the millions watching on television or listening on the radio.

What was even more of a blessing to me was that, to my knowledge, there wasn’t any of the participating players protesting. If there was, the Fox television crew didn’t cover it. Either way, it was a refreshing break from the nonsense that has overtaken the National Football League.

I have been extremely reluctant to write about the topic of protests by NFL players during the playing of the National Anthem over the past two seasons because it is such a polarizing topic. It’s become some sort of a racial litmus test for many. If you’re against the anthem protests, you’re automatically branded as a racist. I don’t like the anthem protests and I can look anybody in the eye and proudly state that I am not a racist.

Sure, we have freedom in this country and it’s protected by our Constitution. However, just because that Constitution provides us that freedom, doesn’t mean we are not responsible for consequences of our actions. Players in the NFL don’t have to stand for the National Anthem. They have the right to kneel, sit, or protest as they see fit. But, if they do, I believe it’s fair for them to face the consequences.

There are many people in this country who believe the National Anthem and the United States flag are sacred, that those things should be honored and respected no matter what. It’s why most of us believe that NFL television ratings were down last season and are down another 7.5 percent this season, according to a recent report in Sports Illustrated.

I realize we have serious, divisive issues in this country. We need to have conversations about racial tension and attitudes toward law enforcement officials. Appearances are such that I feel we are growing farther apart rather than closer together. And, that scares me to death. But, is the answer to disrespect our National Anthem, our flag, or each other? What good will come out of any of those actions?

Bruce Maxwell, a catcher for the Oakland A’s, is believed to be the only Major League Baseball player to protest the anthem by kneeling. This week, USA Today reported that a server at a restaurant in Alabama refused service to Maxwell and his party because of the player’s anthem protests. If I was that server, I would have been polite, respectful and I would have done my job and served him.

If NFL teams don’t want to employ Colin Kaepernick (the player who began the NFL protests) because the media reaction to the former San Francisco quarterback would cause a headache, a distraction or a negative response from fans and sponsors, they have every right not to employ him. Teams have used that criteria to evaluate players throughout the history of professional sports.

We ran a poll on this past week asking, “Do you believe players in the National Football League should be disciplined if they refuse to stand and honor the National Anthem before games?’’ I would vote “yes,’’ but 55 percent of those who responded voted “no.’’

I’m at peace with those who disagree with me. I’ve said before, the only thing I’m intolerant of is intolerance.

So, if you want to take a knee, or sit during the National Anthem, or support those who do, that’s your right. My choice is to hold the National Anthem, God Bless America and the flag sacred.

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