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Is “God Bless America” in the 7th Inning Permanent?

With the Washington Nationals in town, my thoughts turn to our nation’s capital and its most famous exports – burdensome attempts at social engineering, paternalistic rules that are unequally enforced, excessive regulations that benefit powerful interests, shortsighted laws with destructive unintended consequences, and never-ending reminders that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  They’ve got the Smithsonian, so it’s not a total loss.

Washington is also the source of a lot of patriotic symbolism, some of it genuine but much of it banal.  Speaking of which, I have to wonder – will we ever see the end of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch?  I’m hardly the first to ask that question, but if it weren’t for random bloggers restating ideas that have already been raised, the internet would surely cease to exist.

I don’t begrudge anyone who loves his/her country – as long as they’re not trying to force their worldview on others – but personally I’m skeptical about displays of patriotism.  Maybe it’s because of the way politicians constantly invoke patriotism to push all sorts of injustices on the people of the world…actually, it’s definitely because of that.  I’m also uncomfortable about public calls to prayer.

I must be in the minority.  As the headline of this 2011 MLB.com article says, “After 9/11, ‘God Bless America’ a mainstay.”  According to Wikipedia, only the Yankees, Dodgers, and Braves play “God Bless America” during every home game, but it’s commonly sung on Sundays and holidays at other ballparks.  I believe Miller Park plays it every Sunday, although I’m not sure when that became routine.

It makes sense this new tradition took hold right after 9/11, especially in New York.  But what’s the rationale for continuing it 13 years later outside of New York?  It might give some folks warm, fuzzy feelings, but there’s something troubling about an obligatory profession of loyalty to God and country in this day and age.  All fans already must stand for the national anthem at the beginning of any sporting event – which also seems like an antiquated practice, but at least it has a long history.  A second one in the seventh inning is excessive.

I’m sure lots of well-meaning people don’t see how anything could be wrong about “God Bless America” at a baseball game.  And maybe there’s nothing wrong with it in most cases, but I’d just prefer we kept the religion and politics to a minimum at a baseball game.  Too much of this sort of thing is an invitation to mischief.  In 2009, a Red Sox fan got thrown out of Yankee Stadium by an over-zealous NYPD officer for trying to use the bathroom during “God Bless America.”  That’s an extreme case, but it exemplifies the casual authoritarianism that goes hand-in-hand with unchecked patriotism.

A thoughtful 2013 Washington Post op-ed by a Methodist minister and professed Nationals fan further sheds light on why “God Bless America” is problematic:

I don’t want to come off as anti-American if I remain seated. I stand for the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the acknowledgment of returning soldiers, and for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Because I’m a minister, it might seem odd for me not to stand for “God Bless America,” too. But I sit to stand up for my religious beliefs.

One hot Sunday afternoon last season, I did not rise for “God Bless America.” In a beer-soaked tone of voice that wasn’t pleasant, a gentleman several rows behind me told me to stand up. I reminded him that I don’t have to.

This incident made me think more about the question: I love this country and don’t want to live anywhere else. But being pressured to stand up at a baseball game for a song that’s essentially a prayer seems, well, un-American. It feels like being pushed into the river for a baptism I didn’t choose.

Although “God Bless America” in the seventh inning is probably inoffensive to most baseball fans, I would argue it’s out of place and unnecessary.  There are plenty of opportunities for Americans to freely express their feelings about religion and patriotism.  At the Miller Park, let’s just enjoy the game and participate in something we can all agree on – rooting against the Cardinals.

(Image: AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)