"Love it! Love it! WE COMMAND YOU TO LOVE IT!!!" Jingoism rears its head at a post-9/11 Major League Baseball game.
“There is … a purely civil profession of faith of which the Sovereign should fix the articles….
While [the State] can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the State anyone who does not believe them.
The Subjects … owe the Sovereign an account of their opinions only to such an extent as they matter to the community….
Whoever dares to say, `Outside the Church there is no salvation,’ ought to be driven from the State, unless the State is the Church, and the Prince is the Pontiff….
If anyone, after publicly recognizing these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death; he has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the law.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, excerpts from The Social Contract, Book IV, describing his totalitarian concept of the “Civil Religion.”
(See the update at the bottom of the essay.)
All that Brad Campeau-Laurion wanted was to use the bathroom.
The beer he had consumed an hour earlier had completed its tour of his digestive tract and was impatient to leave. So when the Seventh Inning Stretch arrived, and the crowd at Yankee Stadium arose to sing “God Bless America,” Campbeau-Laurion quietly excused himself to attend to this biological imperative.
He wound up being assaulted by two off-duty New York police officers and dragged from the stadium – in humiliating fashion, in full view of tens of thousands of people – for desecrating a recently minted “patriotic” tradition.
In years past, when the Seventh Inning Stretch was marked with the singing of the tune that should be our National Anthem (“Take Me Out to the Ballgame”), furtive visits to the lavatory were expected and even encouraged. But this was before The Day Everything Changed.
After the 9-11 attacks, the corporate leadership of Major League Baseball directed its franchises to replace that traditional sing-along with “God Bless America.” By the beginning of the 2002 season, MLB’s ruling junta relented somewhat, requiring the song to be played on Sundays and holidays and allowing local owners to decide whether to play it more frequently.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the Yankees, a franchise that seems to embody the worst traits of the imperial culture, have a fan-base drawing heavily from a cohort of people who really enjoy compelled conformity. Lonn Trost, the team’s chief operating officer, told the New York Times in 2007 that during the month following 9-11, the team had received “hundreds of e-mails and letters” from fans complaining that others in attendance were not displaying sufficient “respect” during the mid-inning nationalist benediction.
“The fans were telling us it was a disgrace that when the song was being sung people were not observing it with a moment of silence,” Trost explained.
So George Steinbrenner, the corporatist despot who baneful influence and example have all but ruined baseball, devised what the Times called “a plan to restrict movement”: Reverent participation in the “God Bless America” ritual would be enforced by “off-duty uniformed police officers, ushers, stadium security personnel and [use of] the aisle chains….”
At least eight other teams (the Marlins, Padres, Rangers, Twins, Astros, Athletics, and Red Sox) have enacted similar, if less onerous, policies. But apparently only the Yankees combine performance of “God Bless America” at every game with a full-spectrum effort to force participation by fans.
Campeau-Laurion is an ardent baseball fan for whom the August 26, 2008 game was a special experience: It was the last game he would attend in the old Yankee Stadium. After the music began, Campeau-Laurion was stopped by an off-duty police officer en route to the bathroom.
“He informed me that I had to wait until the song was over,” recalls Mr. Campeau-Laurion, who describes himself as an atheist. “I responded that I had to use the restroom and that I did not care about `God Bless America.’ As soon as the latter came out of my mouth, my right arm was twisted violently behind my back and I was informed that I was being escorted out of the stadium. A second officer then joined in” – ah, yes: the Heroes in Blue ™ always prefer the gang-assault method – “and twisted my left arm, also in an excessively forceful manner, behind my back.”
Mr. Campeau-Laurion and a friend were sitting at the “tier level” in Yankee Stadium, which meant that he was dragged painfully by his assailants down the entire length of the stadium. When at one point he complained that he wasn’t resisting and that it wasn’t necessary to hurt him, one of the armed mouth-breathers grunted something to the effect that the victim should shut up or be hurt even more.
As the two thugs and their victim reached the exit, Campeau-Laurion was rudely thrown out, with the first officer sneering, “Get the hell out of my country if you don’t like it.” They then returned to the section where Campeau-Laurion’s friend was still sitting and began propagating falsehoods about their victim, in one instance – within earshot of the witness – telling a fan that Campeau-Laurion had said “This country sucks.”
In similar fashion, when the NYPD was queried about the matter, they did what police consistently do in such matters: They lied with sociopathic composure.
“The officers observed a male standing on his seat, cursing, using inappropriate language and acting in a disorderly manner while reeking of alcohol, and decided to eject him rather than subject others to his offensive behavior," insisted the NYPD in an official statement.
Campeau-Laurion could not have been “reeking” of alcohol, since he had consumed a total of two beers during the entire game, a fact corroborated by credit card receipts and the testimony of his associate. The same testimony confirms that Campeau-Laurion’s conduct was not “disorderly” in any but the familiar, self-serving sense the term is usually employed by law enforcement officers – that is, to describe any statement or gesture of protest displayed by a victim of unwarranted police violence.
It’s important to dismiss right away the notion that the New York Yankees organization has a “property rights” claim that covers its Seventh Inning Jingo Devotional. It’s impossible to frame a legitimate contract in which a paying customer to a sporting event can be compelled, through the threat of violence, to participate in a religious ritual.
In this instance, the ritual is not one rooted in Christian or other monotheistic tradition, however debased, but rather in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s abominable “Civil Religion” of the State. The mandatory moment of “patriotic” conformity, and the means used to enforce it, are an amazingly precise enactment of Rousseau’s dictum that once the State prescribes the tenets of its “civil profession of faith,” it may not be able to compel belief, but has the power to banish or otherwise punish “anyone who does not believe them.”
As a lawsuit recently filed on Campeau-Laurion’s behalf by the New York Civil Liberties Union observes, the police officers who assaulted him were part of a “Paid Detail” program in which armed police in official uniform are hired out to private – or, at least, nominally private – entities in the city.
“Officers assigned to the Paid Detail are acting under color of law and are acting as agents of the private businesses that hire them,” notes the lawsuit. This is a splendidly concise description of a “public-private partnership” – which is to say, a fascist arrangement, albeit on a relatively modest scale.
The Yankees franchise itself, like most major league sports franchises, is a corporatist entity on a rather larger scale. The lawsuit doesn’t exaggerate one whit in noting that since 1970, when the City of New York bought Yankee Stadium, “the New York City government and the Yankees have been closely intertwined.”
The franchise, which oddly enough is actually a “foreign limited partnership under the jurisdiction of Ohio,” leases the Stadium from the City, and when other interests seek to rent the facility for concerts or other events, they rent it from the City, not the team.
In his book Free Lunch, David Cay Johnston points out that New York taxpayers – both city and state-wide – paid more than $119 million to refurbish the old Yankee Stadium. Building the new Stadium, which began operations this past Opening Day, cost an estimated $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies.
The Yankees have the largest media market in Major League Baseball. An entrepreneurial owner would be able to make do without the subsidies. But as things stand, the New York Yankees are a purely corporatist operation – one in which the risks and losses are subsidized and the profits are privatized.
But then again, the same is true of nearly every significant major league franchise in any of the “Big Four” professional sports (baseball, basketball, football, and hockey). And as Johnston observes, the profit margin for professional sports is coming not from sound management of successful teams, but through corporatist wealth redistribution.
“From 1995 through 2006, local, state and federal governments spent more than $10 billion subsidizing more than 50 new major league stadiums and countless minor league facilities,” Johnston notes. In 2006, Forbes magazine reported that the aggregate revenue of the Big Four sports was $16.7 billion; their “operating income” – which is to say, profits – were a mere $1.7 billion.
This is to say that “while some teams are profitable, overall the sports team industry does not earn any profit from the market,” Johnston contends. “Industry profits all come from taxpayers.” (Emphasis added.)
It hardly seems an exaggeration to say that the contemporary version of panem et circenses, like its ancient Roman counterpart, is a State-sponsored enterprise. Accordingly, it’s hardly a surprise to learn that – at least for those attending Yankees home games -- failure to perform the equivalent of burning a pinch of incense at the Imperial Shrine will prompt a violent response from those tasked to enforce the corporatist civil religion.
Those acquainted with the bloody history of Rousseau's cult know that the adulteration of baseball with state-worship is merely the mildest possible foretaste of horrors to come.
UPDATE, July 8:
Mr. Campeau-Laurion has extracted a $10,001 settlement from New York City -- the entity that owned the old Yankee Stadium and owns the new, taxpayer-funded version.
The settlement (.pdf), which includes a tidy $12,000 in attorney fees for the New York branch of the ACLU (which profits handsomely from cases of this kind), includes a stipulation from the city that it has "no policy prohibiting fans from moving about" while "God Bless America" plays during the Seventh Inning Stretch, or that it intends to "institute" such a policy, reports this morning's New York Times.
What this would mean, were these words written by people in whom resided a particle of respect for the truth, is that Mr. Campeau-Laurion was assaulted by two police officers who acted on their own volition, apparently inventing a non-existent policy to justify their criminal behavior.
A quick apology --
In the comments section below, I entirely misinterpreted the remarks made by the "Anonymous" who posted at 8:17 a.m. today (July 7).
I'm slow on the uptake even on my best days, and mornings that follow very late working nights find me even more torpid and dim-witted than usual. My exasperated comments were as much a product of distraction and fatigue as anything else, and they misled several other contributors about what I'm now sure was the intent and substance of "Anonymous"'s post.
Since my offense was public, I now publicly apologize to "Anonymous" and beg his or her indulgence for what was an honest -- albeit foolish -- mistake on my part.
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