The New York Yankees and Philadelphia Flyers sports franchises have enlivened the always-important and ongoing national debate on public morality by taking the unprecedented step of banning Kate Smith’s version of “God Bless America,” which had been played at every Yankee home game since at least September 11, 2001.
Instead of waxing apocalyptic like the usual humdrum conservative alarmist, always seeming to find ways to compare our 21st-century “woke” society to an Orwellian dystopia, I would like to commend the Yankees for being at the forefront of this national conversation. It’s 2019 after all, and the standards of morality—particularly when applied to the emotional issue of institutionalized racism—ought to be both ubiquitous and generational. That is to say, equal standards for racism ought to be applied across the board—regardless if the perpetrator did it in 2019 or 1919.
Racism is racism—a mortal sin so deeply entwined in our cultural fabric and inexcusable that no matter the differences in mores from the past, no such violation of today’s progressive standards ought to be tolerated, let alone forgiven in any situation.
That standard applies even if said perpetrator is deceased, as in the inopportune case of Smith, who deigned to sing a duplet of racially charged songs back in the 1930s—“That’s Why Darkies Were Born” and “Pickaninny Heaven”—when blatant racism was part and parcel of being an everyday American. Pity her for lacking the foresight to guess that in four score years’ time her legacy would be mercilessly adjudicated by her more woke progeny.
Of course, even though racism was pervasive in the 1930s, it was not necessarily universal. That’s what we’re told. Evidently someone in Smith’s own time must have known she was in the wrong. Certainly, Paul Robeson, a contemporary of Smith’s and one of the finest baritones of his day, who also happened to be a black American, and recorded the detestable song as well—he must have known!
Robeson aside, Smith, apparently notorious racist that she was, continued to sing the gastric hymn well into her golden years, even being recognized by President Ronald Reagan for her contributions in 1982 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, before expiring some four years later. Should Reagan’s likeness be extirpated from plaques and memorials all across the country because of his complicity in this? Was he an enabler for Smith’s racist operation? Surely there was enough of a paper trail even without the internet by the mid-1980s when Smith was well into her seventh decade for someone to have picked up a high ethical misdemeanor there. And surely Reagan of all people, former Hollywood actor that he was, must have—at least once in the previous half century—heard Smith singing such grotesquely insensitive lyrics at some point.
Won’t Anyone Think of the Players?
For our purposes, however, let’s just focus on the past 18 years or so, when the song was played over Yankee Stadium’s loudspeakers during the seventh inning stretch of each and every game, 81 times a year. Shouldn’t someone in the Yankees’ managerial staff or ownership have picked up on this travesty during the roughly 1,400 times Smith’s voice was heard before an offended, but thankfully for the rest of us, superlatively virtuous fan called in to stop to this depravity once and for all?
And what about the players and coaches, many of whom were black themselves—who were forced to go out each and every inning, knowing that despite their $100 million salaries, ownership thought so little of them that they made them listen to that ghastly Smith woman every single seventh inning stretch? This is to say nothing of the number of black players who were forced to put up with such institutionalized oppression by the Yankees management over the years.
Heck, if it weren’t for Kate Smith’s omnipresent shadow looming over every game, Derek Jeter might have had 4,000 hits, C.C. Sabathia a few more 20-win seasons, and Aaron Judge probably would have won the homerun title in his rookie season. Am I exaggerating? Maybe—though such notions are obviously and reasonably within the realm of possibility and thus should not be ruled out.
And those are just the players! Who, after all, are being paid huge salaries—which, understandably, is an imperfect equivalent to reparations for slavery, but at least mitigates some of the collateral damage.
And yet think of those untold thousands of black Yankee fans all across the world who were—I am certain—chagrined to be cheering on a sports team that propped up Kate Smith like she was its mascot. A bleak and inflexible reminder of racism’s stony clasp this, made all the more palpable in our purportedly enlightened, post-racialist age.
Kate Smith Is Only the Beginning!
In order to prevent repeat offenders, we need to get ahead of the curve. My recommendation would be to exploit the Yankees’ tactfully clever, hyper-cautious approach to censorship (since, of course, complicity in singing those appalling lyrics must reveal something deep-seated and aberrant at the core of Smith’s soul), and apply it liberally as a blanket policy rooting out, before they can take hold, the many obvious warning signs of racism from our past and present.
Frank Sinatra, for starters, whose song “New York, New York” serenades fans, like Smith’s, after every home game, should probably be cut for a number of questionable things he did in his lifetime. There are several allegations surrounding his treatment of Sammy Davis, Jr., the youngest and only African-American member of the famed “Rat Pack,” who was often hazed by Sinatra and was the target of many racist epithets
Even in the extraordinarily unlikely scenario no direct information could indict Sinatra for being a racist (he did champion for civil rights in the 1960s, after all), Sinatra still regularly engaged in behavior that would now clearly be considered “toxic masculinity”—including highly animated fights with second wife, Ava Gardner—that should, for all intents and purposes, be ample circumstantial evidence to exercise our wand for morally dubious behavior and permanently excise his voice from any sporting venue.
But why stop there? If done correctly, the Yankees would be taking a bold, progressive step in being one of the first sports organizations to implement a complete, zero-tolerance policy for misogynistic lyrics. After all, the Yankees harbor one of the most globally recognizable brands in all of sports. These are responsibilities that must be taken seriously, especially in the age of Trump!
Given its immense fanbase, the Yankees should combine the best of modern technology and progressive wokeness (both of which the organization possess in great supply) in having their global fanbase monitor the lyrics of songs played at games for racist, misogynistic—and let’s throw in homophobic and xenophobic—content. After all, the Yankees are New York’s most prominent sports team. And New York routinely touts itself as the lodestar of American progressivism.
All these forces synchronize beautifully and seamlessly—it would be a travesty, perhaps even immoral, not to make use of them for the greater good of improving the public morality. Indeed, the only logical conclusion is that in spearheading the charge with Kate Smith, the Yankees organization has a moral obligation to rectify many other cultural insensitivities found in popular music, if not also in the wider culture.
One Objection Is Plenty
As just one example, the rapper Eminem, whose song “Lose Yourself” is regularly featured at sporting events at Yankee Stadium and around the country, would be a viable candidate to scrutinize for rebuke. A quick Google search of his songs comes up with highly disturbing lyrics that support and encourage domestic violence against women (“Beat your bitch’s ass while your kids stare in silence”) and disparaging their looks (“I told this bitch in gym class. That she was too fat to swim laps, she need a Slim Fast”).
Perhaps policymakers should, in addition to a reparations tax, entertain a putative tax on teams who violate this standard for offense, which ought to be determined—a la Smith—by any damaging emotional or psychological burden such lyrics have on any one individual.
Since, in Smith’s case, the Yankees’ (admirably) full-throated rebuke was in response to the conniption of a single “fan,” the way to determine misconduct is actually quite simple. So long as the offended individual in question identifies or can speak on behalf of said disrespected identity, that person’s problems should be addressed—perhaps with monetary compensation.
Anyone who dares to suggest said offender has an otherwise stellar moral track record be damned! The bar for presumption of innocence and deference to the deceased should be very low, if not nonexistent. Since the cases are so grave, the consequences so far-reaching, that anyone with an iota of sensibility who remains blithely on the sidelines ought to be penalized just for enabling Hitlerian crimes!
The stakes are too high—we’re too far gone. Fellow social justice warriors, unite! You’re doing a great deed. Even if today’s deplorable majority are too “unwoke” to appreciate it now.
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