Take Me Out to the Ballgame…Not Church
By Eric Jayne
If you’re a baseball fan like me then you’re happy that the Major League Baseball season is underway. Even if the Minnesota Twins continue to have a rough season I will be spending my hard earned money at a few games in Target Field this year. It’s fun to root for my favorite baseball team with 35,000 other fans. I also enjoy taking my kids to the game, eating the concessions, and watching the players through the lens of my own eyes. In the last ten years, however, an obnoxious and insulting element has soured my experience: the agonizingly shrill and superficially patriotic song, “God Bless America.”
Originally written in 1918 by Irving Berlin, God Bless America wasn’t released to the public until 1938. As World War Two escalated in Europe, Berlin changed some of the original lyrics and recruited a singer by the name of Kate Smith to perform the song on a national radio show celebrating Armistice Day. Proving that popularity and quality are mutually exclusive, God Bless America became an instant hit and is now identified as “America’s unofficial national anthem” by the Library of Congress.
The way it’s invading our culture, God Bless America may as well replace “The Star Spangled Banner” as the official national anthem. Many sports teams and leagues have injected God Bless America performances at sporting events since the 9/11 attacks as a way to somehow promote a coalescent message. Every time it’s played during the seventh-inning-stretch at Twins games I notice that fans and players act like Orwellian automatons. They take the same position (hats off and all) they took during the pre-game Star Spangled Banner, face the flag, and solemnly revere the song as a sacred celebration of our national identity.
In 2008, one baseball fan was ejected from Yankees Stadium by the New York Police Department for going to the bathroom instead of attentively standing during the God Bless America performance at the seventh-inning-stretch. The Yankees no longer require fans to stand for the song after the New York Civil Liberties Union sued the team and the police department over the incident. So far, I haven’t been ejected from Target Field for not standing, but there was one time a vendor refused to sell me a bag of peanuts while the song was being performed.
Occasionally I sing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” during God Bless America performances at Target Field, since it was written to directly protest Berlin’s song. This rebellious act may not work for all secularists because This Land is Your Land hints at Guthrie’s own political views. Of course neither Berlin’s song nor Guthrie’s song are appropriate supplements for sports games. Perhaps a more effective way to protest compulsory God Bless America performances at ball games is to visit a local church with some friends, while wearing your favorite sports team’s colors, and passionately sing Take Me out to the Ballgame during the communion service, and then say “that’s what it feels like!”
To support the principals of our great nation, and to not alienate their fans, the Minnesota Twins should take initiative by putting an end to what is becoming an unfortunate compulsion to carelessly force an awful song—in both composition and meaning—into the Great American Past time. It’s the right thing to do.