View Full Version : In the 7th Inning, Stretch, but Don’t Move

July 10th, 2009, 04:35 AM
In the 7th Inning, Stretch, but Don’t Move


Comparisons between New York and Iran are hard to resist these days.

Consider a pronouncement this week by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president and front-runner for the title of world leader with the creepiest smile. Mr. Ahmadinejad is not exactly a beacon of democracy. But even he seems to understand that using the police to enforce cultural values is probably not a good idea. “Cultural issues should be dealt through cultural channels, and I am against security confrontations,” he said.

Wouldn’t you know that New York City, its Police Department and the New York Yankees find themselves in sync with him? The police, they all agree, have no business enforcing cultural values. To be more specific, they have no business stopping anyone who wishes to wander around while a certain Irving Berlin song is being played.

The song is “God Bless America.” It is played — usually in the Kate Smith version — at every Yankee home game during the seventh inning. All baseball teams performed this ritual after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But before long, most stopped routinely doing so. How many times in a single game is it necessary to assert one’s patriotism? Isn’t the pregame “Star-Spangled Banner” enough?

Not for the Yankees. Come the bottom of every seventh inning, their fans are told to stand. Some no doubt still find the song inspiring. But after eight years, others barely pay attention, no more moved to love of country than they are by the late-inning blaring of “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”

Another enduring Berlin number is “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” At Yankee Stadium, reality has been more on the order of “Let’s Face the Music and Not Move.” Security guards and police officers have ensured that fans stay put. Even though the team insists that there has never been a policy forbidding movement, the security detail has made it pretty clear that everyone had better freeze while Kate belted it out.

That brings us to Bradford Campeau-Laurion, 30, a Web producer for a media company. He lives in Queens and goes to Yankee Stadium when he can. O.K., he roots for the Red Sox. But then, he’s originally from New Hampshire. He probably can’t help himself.

Last Aug. 26, he was sitting in the upper deck, watching his Red Sox beat the home team. He’d had two of the stadium’s overpriced beers. In the way of these things, he had need of the men’s room. He waited for a long break in the action, which came in the middle of the seventh inning. Kate was singing.

THAT’S when a police officer did a Diana Ross on him. “He sort of raised his hands in a ‘Stop’ fashion,” Mr. Campeau-Laurion recalled. “I said: ‘Look, I don’t care about “God Bless America.” I’m just trying to go to the bathroom.’ I tried to keep going, but no sooner than I did, he got a second officer over, and they just wrapped me up and dragged me out. They shoved me out the gates and told me to get out of their country if I didn’t like it.”

The police version was that Mr. Campeau-Laurion was “reeking of alcohol” and cussing away. “Completely false,” he says. All things considered, his account seems the more credible.

With the help of the New York Civil Liberties Union, he brought a federal lawsuit against the city, the police and the Yankees. City Hall clearly did not want to push its luck in court. It was disclosed this week that the city, without admitting to any wrongdoing, had agreed to pay Mr. Campeau-Laurion $10,001 (and the civil liberties union $12,000 in lawyers’ fees).

For their part, the Yankees — who benefit from sizable government subsidies for their stadium — affirmed that they have no policy restricting fans’ moving around during “God Bless America.”

To Donna Lieberman, executive director of the rights group, the settlement was a triumph for freedom of expression and movement. Mr. Campeau-Laurion saw it as tacit acknowledgment by the city that the police had gone too far. But there was a more fundamental issue. “To force someone to participate in an act of patriotism,” he said, “really devalues the very freedom that we fought for in the first place.”

Now that New York has clarified this point about enforcing cultural values, it’s the Iranian leader’s turn. “Social freedom is a principle,” said A-jad (a reasonable nickname, since this is about the Yankees). We ought to find out soon enough if he means any of it.