One day last August, Bradley Campeau-Laurion just wanted to leave his seat and use the bathroom at the old Yankee Stadium. The 30-year-old New York resident had no idea that nature’s call would lead him down a road to perdition where he would be accused of challenging God, country, and the joys of compulsory patriotism at the ballpark.
Under the thirty-six-year watch of George Steinbrenner–and now his offspring–the New York Yankees have always wrapped their fans, like it or not, in red, white and blue bombast. This is the team that so loves God and country that it mandates the singing of two national anthems–Francis Scott Key’s 1814 epic, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Irving Berlin’s 1918 anthem, “God Bless America.”
For a while after 9/11, “God Bless America” was standard fare in major league ballparks. But while most ball clubs have let the practice slide, the super-patriotic Steinbrenners have ramped up the flag-waving, extending the seventh-inning stretch to include “God Bless America” along with the traditional “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Sometimes “God Bless…” is performed live by Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, but most often the tune is delivered over stadium loudspeakers via a scratchy vintage recording by the operatic warbler Kate Smith, who first popularized the song in 1938. But no matter who’s singing, the Yankees have been known to cordon off the aisles and put off-duty police officers in place to ensure the multitudes stand at respectful attention. (Fans of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but a long-dead singer and the chains on your bleachers!)
Not only do the Yankees expect fans to stand during the singing of patriotic songs, but during the Bush era they virtually mandated fan support for the Iraq War, all the while extorting tax breaks and other public subsidies from city, state and federal governments to build their new $1 .5 billion cathedral of baseball. (Separation of sports and state anyone?) For the Steinbrenners and the high-rollers who occupy Yankee Stadium’s $2,500 top-shelf seats, this kind of power patriotism wedded to corporate welfare must be sweet as champagne.
But as the global economic meltdown has proven, there ultimately comes a time to put the brakes on corporate execs–to say nothing of mindless patriotism. And while some Yankees fans have grumbled and a few intrepid sports bloggers, like former Deadspin Editor Will Leitch, have raised concerns, it took one man’s full bladder to hoist the Yankees organization with its own petard.