Cooper: Can displaying flag be 'political'?

Cooper: Can displaying flag be 'political'?

April 19th, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

UTC wide receiver Xavier Borishade carries an American flag onto the field ahead of the team during a Mocs' home football game against Wofford last November.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

An NBC sports writer named Craig Calcaterra may not have intended to do so, but he awakened a patch of patriotic pride many Americans possess when he responded last weekend to a Twitter photo of a giant flag at the Atlanta Braves' baseball park opener with a suggestion to "keep politics out of sports."

He has been explaining those words ever since, though not necessarily apologizing for their sentiment.

Calcaterra's claim is that excessive displays of patriotism ramped up after Sept. 11, 2001, and never decreased. That bothers him.

He refers to the displays as "conspicuous patriotism," "performative patriotism" and "a huge part of political strategy."

"Let us not pretend that, over more than a decade and a half of it," Calcaterra wrote in a blog post, "many have not learned how effective it is to leverage patriotism to aid their political careers, their images, or their marketability and the marketability of their brands. Patriotism is a feeling and an ideal, and like any other feeling or ideal, it can be twisted to any number of other ends, good, bad or neutral."

If baseball games were political rallies, we could understand his thoughts. Politicians, political parties and presidents love to wrap themselves and their events in flags and in the red, white and blue of the American flag.

Indeed, patriotic symbols make politicians do strange things. For instance, former President Barack Obama, on the campaign trail in 2008, told a reporter he believed the flag pin had become "a substitute for, I think, true patriotism" and that he had decided he wouldn't "wear that pin on my chest" but would allow his explanations about "what I believe will make this country great" to be "testimony to his patriotism." Despite that statement, not long after that, he began wearing the flag pin and never stopped for the rest of his presidency.

But baseball is baseball, a game ingrained into the American psyche for more than 150 years. You've long heard of something referred to as American as "Mom, apple pie and baseball." And a car company's 1970s, America-themed jingle extolled the virtues of "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet."

If the flag displays are, as Calcaterra believes, "a huge part of political strategy," we wonder which politicians they are assisting and just how they are doing that.

We recall, for instance, seeing a flag similar to the one in Atlanta last Friday stretched across Dodger Stadium in pregame ceremonies for Memorial Day in 2014. That was right smack in the heart of Liberal Land and in the midst of the Obama presidency. And similar displays occur at every ball park.

So what is the secret political strategy?

Calcaterra doesn't say, but he does mention a 2015 "pay-for-patriotism scandal" in which it was revealed the Pentagon spent $6.8 million between 2012 and 2015 for various ceremonies and displays at professional sporting events. National Football League teams, the report said, got the most money.

The Atlanta Braves received $450,000, the most of any Major League Baseball franchise.

We're not sure what they bought with their money, but professional sports teams long before and after this "scandal" have displayed flags, had guests sing the national anthem, saluted troops and received military flyovers. Yet, we're not aware of any polls that have ever linked attendance at a flag-bedecked stadium to an increase in volunteers for military service or support for one candidate or another.

The Braves, themselves, have had Atlanta Opera tenor Timothy Miller sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch of every Sunday home game since 2010 and have honored a "Hometown Hero" member of the military at many home games for years. But seeing the "heroes" greeted with handshakes, pats on the back and thank-yous for their service by fans as they walked from the field and up through the stands always seemed touching and not in any way "conspicuous," "performative" or "political."

Calcaterra believes teams are "unwilling to cut back on the big flags and the military initiatives" because they might be called unpatriotic. We don't think in time fans would miss a flag here or a salute to the military there, but we think it might be that those things stick around because fans enjoy them. And if they cause fans to feel patriotic for a moment before biting into their $8 hot dog or appreciate someone's military service before encouraging their team to rally, what's the harm?

The NBC sports writer said since what he now calls his "little joke" was tweeted, people have said he should be burned at the stake, hanged, or get cancer, that his tweet was treasonous and that he was a commie. He said he's had death threats.

We'll defend Calcaterra's right to speak his piece, to maintain "our country is stronger thanks in part to the efforts of those who have found fault with it at times," but believe his "little joke" was not funny to those who see the flag not as political but as a symbol of what is right and worth saving about the country.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315