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Thursday, July 11, 2019 12:16 am

Flags and railroads

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

“Their actions following their victory were not what…fans have come to expect from their champions,” the head of the sport’s sanctioning body said afterward, calling the celebratory behavior “regrettable.”

This, of course, was the U.S. men’s relay team that shocked the planet in 2000, not by winning gold at the Sydney Olympics – that was expected – but by preening and prancing and posing while draped in American flags as if covered with beach towels. The runners quickly apologized. “When we were finished, we were so overwhelmed, we just lost our minds,” explained Maurice Green. “We are truly sorry.”

Back then, before social media, team captain Jon Drummond estimated he got as many as 200 emails a day for a week, many with ugly racial sentiments. Nonetheless, he joined teammates in apologizing: “We meant no disrespect or offense with our actions, and we understand that our behavior caused pain and anger for many Americans.”

Nineteen years later, America is divided over boorish behavior by soccer players during the women’s World Cup. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I agree with overmatched opponents who, after losing, politely called the Americans arrogant. What, I wonder, would Bobby Knight or Woody Hayes, both deeply flawed men worshipped as legendary coaches, say about a team that ran up the score 13-0 against hapless Thailand, players celebrating each goal as if they’d summitted Everest? I prefer Brandi Chastain, who stripped off her jersey in a spontaneous act of exuberance after scoring the winning penalty kick to capture the 1999 World Cup. That moment of pure joy was immortalized this week as the Rose Bowl unveiled bronze capturing Chastain’s iconic celebration. Jackie Robinson is the only other athlete honored with a statue at the historic Pasadena stadium.

Megan Rapinoe jerseys are hot sellers, but whether her famous pose will be captured by a statue or grace athletic wear like Michael Jordan’s silhouette isn’t yet clear. What does seem obvious is that Rapinoe and her teammates owe an apology, no matter how one feels about pantomiming a tea party after scoring against England.

After capturing the championship, midfielder Allie Long dropped an American flag, then stepped on it, as Rapinoe and others beckoned her to strike silly poses. People noticed. Long, I think, didn’t really mean to do it; it’s just that she saw something more worthy of her attention at that moment than the Stars and Stripes.
I’m not much a fan of the flag. I think it’s silly to pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth, but I stand, put my hand over my liver and exercise my right to remain silent while those around me pay respects. Realizing the flag provokes strong feelings – some even believe that flag burning should be a crime -- it’s a matter, I think, of being polite. If others choose to remain seated, I don’t care. This is, after all, America, and reasoned choices are fine.

The World Cup winners don’t appear to hate America or Old Glory, but accidents happen, and footage of Long’s flag fumble is forever. Like runners on the 2000 Olympic relay team, she should have apologized as her faux pas went viral: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that, my lifelong dream had just come true and synapses in my brain were firing in ways they’d never fired before. And that, I suspect, would have been that.
Haters, still, would hate, but apologies are strong medicine, and so others might be persuaded that a team some folks love to hate isn’t Duke or the New York Yankees. Saying you’re sorry for something inadvertent can’t hurt, and if you won’t apologize for accidentally stepping on the flag, when would you say that you regret something?

Which brings us to the Du Quoin State Fair, where flag issues, mostly self-inflicted, fester.
The state Department of Agriculture goofed, signing the musical group Confederate Railroad to play the fair. The name is bad enough, that the band’s logo includes the stars-and-bars puts it over the top. The state compounded its mistake by canceling the show, a move that might have been the best thing that could have happened to a washed-up group about as original as Lawrence Welk.

Between Monday night and lunch time Tuesday, the band with a previously anemic Twitter account had gained more than 1,200 followers. News coverage has been nationwide. I’m guessing any trouble Confederate Railroad might have had landing gigs is over.

Instead of canceling the concert, the state should have disciplined whoever signed off, hoped no one noticed the blunder and, if someone did, issued an apology: We are sorry, this should not have happened, it will never happen again, protesters will be admitted to the fair for free and we’ll provide bottled water and ice cream. Confederate Railroad would have been a hiccup instead of a can of worms.

Given Du Quoin, some folks now are questioning the appearance of Snoop Dogg at next month’s fair in Springfield, where Hank Williams, Jr. performed four years ago despite comparing Barack Obama to Hitler and recording a Confederate ode called “If The South Woulda Won.” Snoop critics raise fair goose-for-gander points.

I understand why people think Donald Trump is a misogynistic racist who should be impeached, but I can see how a depiction of the president, dead, on a 2017 Snoop record would upset decent folk whose tax dollars are in play for the upcoming show. Worse, Snoop has refused to apologize for years when he called women bitches and ho’s, although he says his thinking has evolved. He is, at least, a World Cup fan, supporting equal pay for women players. “Man, pay them ladies,” he wrote on Instagram. Which counts as some progress.  

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