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What she's doing is courageous and difficult, but in this community we respect one another's views, and whether I agree or disagree is irrelevant.

Manhattanville College President, Richard Berman

Sporting events have occasionally become proxy venues for political struggle. From cricket to rugby to soccer to the Olympics it is not always just national pride on the line, but the chance to strike a blow against colonialism, imperialism, discrimination or any ideology that might be associated with the opponent.

Perhaps the most famous of modern politicized sporting events was the Munich Olympics of 1972 where 9 Israeli athletes were killed by Black September - an Arab terrorist organization. The Olympics are a common forum for political statements. From black Americans and Hitler's dream of Aryan supremacy at Berlin in 1932 to Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising black-gloved fists at Mexico City in 1968 to Jimmy Carter ordering an American boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow in retaliation for the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

In 1997, Mahmoud Abdul Rauf, then of the NBA's Denver Nuggets, refused to stand during the American ritual of playing the national anthem before a sporting event. Rauf's stance was a religious one, but after 60 games his personal beliefs came under attack and the league suspended him. After consulting with Islamic elders, Rauf agreed to stand during the national anthem - while praying privately for an end to suffering humanity.

In a pose similar to Rauf's, during the 2002-2003 women's basketball season Manhattanville College senior Toni Smith has refused to face or look at the American flag during the playing of the national anthem.

Smith's stance has drawn numerous protests and she has been accosted both on and off the court, by both opposing players and fans -- including having midshipmen at the United States Merchant Marine Academy chanting at her to "Leave Our Country!"

For most of the season Smith performed her personal protest in silence - offering no reason for her refusal to salute the flag. But eventually Smith -- a team captain and sociology major -- released a written statement:

For some time now, the inequalities that are embedded into the American system have bothered me. As they are becoming progressively worse and it is clear that the government's priorities are not on bettering the quality of life for all of its people, but rather on expanding its own power, I cannot, in good conscience, salute the flag. The war America will soon be entering in has reinforced my beliefs.

Sources:
http://www.ericmcerlain.com/offwingopinion/archives/cat_politics.php
http://www.1010wins.com/topstories/winsnews_story_052135511.html
http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0221-07.htm

In the March 17, 2002 issue of The Sporting News I finally was able to read Toni Smith's side of her story. She told her story in her own words. I was impressed with her focus and ability to express her points. So often, those who take a stand against something embarass those who have similar views because they rail mindlessly against everything in a column of hate. At anti-war protests I've been to I've sat and listened to people who make little or no sense, broadcasting their general dislike for all kinds of things, diving into things like saving forests and wearing clothes made out of all natural fabrics. Try to stay on the point and stop gliding off on so many wacko tangents, people.

For some time now, the inequalities that are embedded into the American system have bothered me. As they are becoming progressively worse and it is clear that the government's priorities are not on bettering the quality of life for all of its people, but rather on expanding its own power, I cannot, in good conscience, salute the flag. The war America will soon be entering in has reinforced my beliefs.

Toni Smith gained a little more than fifteen minutes of fame after she refused to face the American flag during the National Anthem. She is a senior at Manhattanville College who happens to play on the girl's basketball team at said university. She continues not to face the flag, drawing the ire of millions, especially American servicemen, some of which have loudly chanted for her to get out of the country if she thinks so little of the flag.

Toni Smith's message was personal and was never meant to gain as much media attention as it did. Yet she will not shy away from the attention and is glad to have gained a platform to speak from. She does not defend herself with excuses. She has something to say. She is not just one of those random attention getting people who has no idea what they are all about.

"Athletes and celebrities are the people who have enough social influence to make their opinions heard. Wouldn't it be a waste if their only jobs as national figures were to look good and reiterate popular opinions?"

Toni goes on to talk about how there is this national consensus that celebrities should keep their opinions to themselves. Yet, there is a double-edged sword. Mike Piazza is applauded as a patriot for his vocal support of the war effort. Anyone who doesn't support those views is labelled an idiot who should keep their mouth shut and not use their celebrity status to vocalize their views.

Sports, we are told, are not political. Toni Smith questions this point by reminding us that they are. Why is the "Star Spangled Banner" played before every game and why is everyone expected to bow their head and place their hand over their heart in a modern form of idol worship? Why don't we have this sort of thing when we go to the movies, standing up for the national anthem before the first reel rolls?

As American politics rolls closer and closer to a point where there is one point of view and almost no resistance, it is time for athletes and celebrities to step up. Since the opposition party in our government is so limp wristed it can't even figure out what it stands for, someone needs to step up to the plate. Do you want Mike Piazza or Toni Smith stepping up the the plate? I guess it depends on what kind of home run you want to hit. They both have valid points of view and they both have the right to express them.

More importantly, she isn't rushing to apologize like some, who are afraid for their careers.


I never thought I'd do this one, but this is my submission for tes's hero quest.


Oh, by the way, I'm a Mets fan.

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