The Pinstripe Patriot Act

One day last August, Bradley Campeau-Laurion just wanted to leave his
seat and use the bathroom at the old Yankee Stadium. The 30-year-old New
York resident had no idea that nature's call would lead him down a road
to perdition where he would be accused of challenging God, country, and
the joys of compulsory patriotism at the ballpark.

Under the thirty-six-year watch of George Steinbrenner--and now his
offspring--the New York Yankees have always wrapped their fans, like it
or not, in red, white and blue bombast. This is the team that so loves
God and country that it mandates the singing of two national
anthems--Francis Scott Key's 1814 epic, "The Star-Spangled Banner" and
Irving Berlin's 1918 anthem, "God Bless America."

For a while after 9/11, "God Bless America" was standard fare in major
league ballparks. But while most ball clubs have let the practice slide,
the super-patriotic Steinbrenners have ramped up the flag-waving,
extending the seventh-inning stretch to include "God Bless America"
along with the traditional "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Sometimes "God
Bless..." is performed live by Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, but most often
the tune is delivered over stadium loudspeakers via a scratchy vintage
recording by the operatic warbler Kate
, who first popularized the song in 1938. But no matter who's
singing, the Yankees have been known to cordon off the aisles and put
off-duty police officers in place to ensure the multitudes
stand at respectful attention
. (Fans of the world unite! You have
nothing to lose but a long-dead singer and the chains on your

Not only do the Yankees expect fans to stand during the singing of
patriotic songs, but during the Bush era they virtually mandated fan
support for the Iraq War, all the while extorting tax breaks and other
public subsidies from city, state and federal governments to build their
new $1
.5 billion cathedral of baseball
. (Separation of sports and state
anyone?) For the Steinbrenners and the high-rollers who occupy Yankee
Stadium's $2,500 top-shelf seats, this kind of power patriotism wedded
to corporate welfare must be sweet as champagne.

But as the global economic meltdown has proven, there ultimately comes a
time to put the brakes on corporate execs--to say nothing of mindless
patriotism. And while some Yankees fans have grumbled and a few intrepid
sports bloggers, like former Deadspin Editor Will Leitch, have
raised concerns, it took one man's full bladder to hoist the Yankees
organization with its own petard.

All Campeau-Laurion did was try to go to the men's room during the
seventh-inning stretch. In swooped two New York Police Department
officers working security detail, who reportedly roughed him up and
threw him out of the ballpark. Now Campeau-Laurion has filed a civil
suit against the the city, the cops and the team for violating his

"New York's finest have no business arresting someone for trying to go
to the bathroom at a politically incorrect moment," said Donna
Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union,
which is representing Campeau-Laurion in the lawsuit. According to the
complaint, Campeau-Laurion drank two beers and took the seventh-inning
stretch to mean he could actually go stretch.

"As he walked toward the tunnel leading to the concourse, a uniformed
New York City police officer put up his hands and mumbled something to
Mr. Campeau-Laurion, " according to the complaint, blocking his way to
the bathroom during the singing of "God Bless America."

As Campeau-Laurion tried to move past the officer, the policeman grabbed
his arm and said, "He's out" to another officer, who twisted his left
arm behind his back, hustling him down the ramp and out of the stadium.

NYPD tells a different story.

"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," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said in an e-mail reply
to my query. This account strains credulity. If it were standard
procedure for the NYPD to kick out every drunken fan from Yankee
Stadium, the place would be emptier than a John Ashcroft concert at the
Apollo Theatre.

Campeau-Laurion disputes the NYPD account. "Not a word of that is true,"
he told Bloomberg News. "The whole incident didn't occur at my seat. It
occurred at my section when I went to use the restroom."

"I don't care about 'God Bless America.' I don't believe that's grounds
constitutionally for being dragged out of a baseball game... I simply
don't have any religious beliefs... It devalues patriotism as a whole
when you force people to participate in patriotic acts," he continued.
"It devalues the freedom we fought for in the first place."

This ugly incident raises a series of inconvenient questions: why does
America feel compelled to bind sports to patriotic ritual? Why are
publicly funded facilities like stadiums used to promote private
religious or political beliefs? And given the putrid start of the
Yankees's season, shouldn't management be more concerned with what's
happening with the players than with the fans? All should stand with
Campeau-Laurion until we get some answers.

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