It was announced this week that both the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Flyers would stop using their traditional recorded version of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” during their games. This happened after it surfaced that Smith had performed songs now considered racist during during her hey day in the 1930s. The Flyers, with whom Smith is more closely aligned as the good luck charm for their 1974 Stanley Cup run, even removed a statue of her from the Philadelphia sports complex.
In a brilliant monologue, sports commentator Jason Whitlock broke down the absurdity of these moves. The whole video is worth watching. Among other things, Whitlock points out that the song “That’s Why The Darkies Were Born,” recorded by Smith in the 1930s, was satire that was also performed by black civil rights legend Paul Robeson. I hope Robeson, one of the most important black figures of the 20th century, won’t have to meet this same fate.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) April 20, 2019
But I would like to focus for a moment on the New York Yankees, which is arguably the most important sports franchise in the world. The irony of this team cancelling Smith for actions she took almost a century ago that are only mildly problematic, while their own team refused to hire black ballplayers, is astounding.
Smith sang a silly song. The Yankees systematically denied qualified black baseball players the right to make a good a living for more than half a century. So why is Smith being exiled while the Bronx Bombers go along like nothing happened? The answer is that throwing Smith under the bus more than 40 years after her death costs nothing. It is the empty virtue signaling that corporate America prefers to reflecting on their actions.
If we must lose Smith — if her statues must be taken down, if her songs must be silenced — then how do we justify allowing modern players, including black players, to wear the uniform of a team that denied black Americans agency and personhood? Any fair treatment of this situation would require that the Yankee pinstripes be retired right along side Smith.
Amidst the controversy, Stephen Smith of ESPN chimed in to try to explain why banishing Kate Smith is acceptable. His co-panelist Will Cain argued that if we go down this road of dragging everyone who did something inappropriate nearly a century ago, who will be left? He even pointed out that maybe Barack Obama should be cancelled for his bigoted views on gay marriage, and that was only a decade ago. Smith thought he had an answer.
He said, “That’s pretty d-mn easy for you to say, because you’re not the offended party. It’s real easy for the group that is not the offended party to take that position.” Cain replied, “There will always be an offended party, Stephen A, and they’ll make that argument to you one day.” Count on it.
— First Take (@FirstTake) April 22, 2019
Smith’s deeply misguided point seems to be that if some group of people are offended — and it’s not entirely clear who actually is offended by Kate Smith — then their destructive desires must be entertained and acted upon. No discussion is needed, no context is required, no good works come into play. Just tear down the statue and throw the offender into the dustbin of history.
Fair enough. I am deeply offended by the fact that the New York Yankees refused to field a black player for the first half of the 20th century. Don’t tell me that’s just how it was. Don’t tell me it was the rule. Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers had the courage to break that rule in the 1940s, well before the beloved Yankees did. How can this be forgiven? How can we celebrate their legacy while Kate Smith’s is destroyed?
The only fair and just thing to do here is for the New York Yankees franchise to fold, along with all but the expansion Major League Baseball franchises that came into being after integration. We can replace them quickly with new teams, teams that never denied black people the right to play. If Kate Smith is being cancelled for her actions 80 years ago, then so must the New York Yankees be.
These are the rules. Well, sort of. These are the rules when it doesn’t cost anybody any money. These are the rules when we decide to deride the memory of a woman who achieved greatness at a time when that was very hard.
She immortalized a second national anthem, and raised millions to support the war effort in World War II. Yet she is a problem for singing a satirical song. But Joe DiMaggio is a hero even though he consented to outright racism that helped him secure his job. Let’s end the Yankees. Please sign my petition.