This past Monday brought about Patriot’s Day, a celebration commemorating the battle of Lexington and Concord. While some states simply recognize the occasion, in Massachusetts it is well celebrated state holiday. Since 1969 the Boston Marathon has been ran, and the Red Sox have played at home to celebrate the events. As expected, the festivities and historic significance brings together patrons from around the world to travel to the city upon the hill, and celebrate patriotism in arguably the most historically patriotic city in the United States. In 2013 the Marathon and country were shaken in the wake of a bombing that killed three and injured hundreds more at the finish line. The nation rallied in support for the victims and the city of Boston and images of the slogan “Boston Strong” were seen everywhere. What became synonymous with the moment was David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s “This is our f**king city” comments and declaring that no one would dictate the freedom of Bostonians. Sadly, Papi could not be more wrong.
These last couple weeks we have been reading What’s My Name, Fool? a book on resistance and sports, and at the center of it was a debate regarding whether or not players should be unconditionally patriotic. The debate while entertaining, featured the same questionable positions we see so many Americans have these days. Of course this is by no means a spite on the team defending the idea that they should be, after all they were given the topic and told to defend it, but it is the bigger picture that I am concerned with here. My position may anger some, but healthy dialogue never hurt anyone.
Shortly after 9/11 I went to a recruiting station and volunteered four years (initial contract) of my life to defend the United States against terrorism. This was the mindset for many of us who were at the ripe age to go abroad and fight the war, perhaps more so for those of us with a lack of opportunity after school, but my age group nonetheless. I completed two tours, twelve months and fifteen months respectively, in Iraq. After I was honorably discharged from the service I volunteered to go abroad again to help our young fighters in the battlefield. War was all I knew, and I knew it damn well. Patriotism was never a concern for me because I felt like I toed the line and stepped up when they needed me most. In hindsight I was blind. This is not to discredit my service, it was the best years of my life, but I was nothing more than a number. My voice was not something that would be heard when it came to the burdens of conflict. I had a job to do, and any sign of questioning of that was taken as insubordinate and subject to reprimand. In some respects I was no different than the athlete, I should be grateful and keep my mouth shut, and knowing what I know now that was a problem.
There are a number of examples, but in order to keep it brief I will just discuss a couple. In 2014 Dion Waiters refused to stand for the national anthem and he was immediately bombarded with negative media. His reasoning for not participating was because of his religion. The sentiment circulated showcased disdain for his ungratefulness to the nation that has allowed his career to flourish. Outlets said that his religion should not supersede his loyalty to the all-mighty United States. Waiters was not the first player to do this, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf decided not to stand during the 1996 season, and not only received a suspension from the league, but also lost endorsements and his promising career hit a brick wall. I guess religious liberty does not apply to those outside Christianity.
Athletes have been gifted with a platform most American’s could only dream of having. Sadly for many that platform has off-limits signs whenever it does not conform to the comforts of society. We saw examples of that with Muhammad Ali’s historic refusal to be sent to Vietnam, or Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ resistance in the 1968 Olympics, athletes have made history standing up against the injustices in America and they often receive backlash. In the case of Big Papi, people fell in love with his comments given the context in which they were said, and there is nothing wrong with that. It comforted people during a time when they needed it most. But the moment an athlete speaks or acts, out against war, police violence, or exercises their first Amendment in anyway (yes that includes freedom of religion) they are told it is not their place. To shut up and do their job.
To simply declare the United States as the land of the free only when those who speak out do so in accordance with what we agree with is hypocritical. This club is not exclusive, it requires the membership of those who wave flags and serve their country, but it also requires those who recognize the injustices and speak out against them as well. You are no less patriotic if you acknowledge a concern that affects those at home, and abroad. Regarding Papi’s comments, freedom has been dictated long before he came around, and it will be long after he is gone. Careers have ended as a result of the choices people make regarding their own beliefs. If you cannot speak out against injustices in fear of repercussions, then we are no different than the authoritarian regimes we so quickly criticize. At the center of freedoms definition rests the ability to speak and act without hindrance. Perhaps that is where our allegiance should be, in ensuring that freedom is prolonged for generations to come. The first step is acknowledging the fact we won’t always see eye-to-eye.