They booed Carlos Delgado on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. They should have cheered him.
Delgado is the leading anti-war activist in major league baseball. He actually has thought about the U.S. invasion of Iraq and come to the conclusion that more and more Americans and more than a few shame-faced politicians finally have come to as well.
"I think it's the stupidest war ever,'' the Blue Jays' power-hitting first baseman told the Toronto Star earlier this month after someone finally noticed that whenever "God Bless America'' was played in major league ballparks, Delgado would disappear until the song was over.
This, as it turns out, was his silent protest of the U.S. invasion of Iraq that has now cost the lives of 900 U.S. citizens and countless more Iraqis, many of whom just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Whether fans at Yankee Stadium agree with Delgado or the Bush administration's war, they still should not have booed him when he came to the plate. If anything, they should have cheered because he was a living civics lesson to every young fan watching (and the old ones, too) who may have heard this week of his quiet protest.
"I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it,'' he wrote, and the founding fathers of our country took that thought and those words to heart. That is what being an American is really supposed to be about. Having the freedom to say what you believe without someone trying to intimidate you to be silent was one notion the framers of the constitution felt strongly about.
What we are fighting for in Baghdad, so we say, is to free a country whose people's dissent had been silenced for too long. We didn't say that when this mess of a war started, but that's what we're saying now when it turns out the Iraqis not only didn't have weapons of mass destruction, but barely had weapons at all beyond homemade bombs and a few nuts willing to strap them to their chests and drive into a building and detonate themselves.
Now that those facts have become clear through the fog of war, the conclusion is Saddam Hussein was a bad man but he was far more of a threat to his own people than to anyone else. More importantly, there was never any link between his regime and the people who blew up the World Trade Center and a portion of the Pentagon on Sept. 11. Even British prime minister Tony Blair, President Bush's strongest ally, now concedes this point.
That being the case, Delgado wonders why the United States is involved in a conflict in Iraq. That's a good question. If he chooses to make a small protest by staying in the dugout or walking down the ramp toward the clubhouse when he hears "God Bless America'' begin, as it does on Sundays and holidays during the seventh-inning stretch in most ballparks and at that time every game at Yankee Stadium since Sept. 11, 2001, what does it hurt?
A fan was quoted by the Associated Press as saying he believed Delgado's actions were "disrespectful'' and "a slap directly in my face, as a New Yorker and an American.''
Are you kidding me?
How is a man who admits to being, "Not pro-war. I'm anti-war. I'm for peace,'' slapping anyone in the face by making that known? Why is it disrespectful to quietly protest a war you don't believe in in a country that has supposedly gone to war to free people who have been denied just such free speech for 30 years or more?
What Delgado is doing is what America is supposed to be all about, but many Americans seem to have forgotten that. To protest these days is to be considered subversive. To protest the actions of our government these days is to not be on the team, to not be true to your school, to not be an American. What dangerous nonsense.
Protestors who have come to Boston to have their voices heard during the Democratic Convention that begins Monday are being herded under an abandoned piece of elevated subway track and then swathed in mesh fencing. In essence, the protesters are being entombed. Saddam Hussein would have liked that. So would the late Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who turned the 1968 Democratic Convention into a riot when he unleashed his police on anti-war protesters of another conflict that proved to be a disastrous mistake, the Vietnam War.
If so silent a protest as Delgado's is something, as Yankees manager Joe Torre put it, that "won't be received too well'' in New York, what has America come to?
Delgado has apparently been thinking about that for a while. Maybe the rest of us should too, especially if a baseball player quietly protests a conflict he believes is stupid — one the majority of the country now feels never should have happened — gets booed for staying in the dugout until "God Bless America'' is finished.
As Delgado said, "This is my personal feeling. I don't want to draw attention to myself. If I make the last out of the seventh inning, I'll stand there. But I'd rather be in the dugout.''
Delgado is not trying to make a mockery of the game or a spectacle of himself. It took half a season for anyone to even notice what he was doing and ask him why. So just how disruptive is it?
More to the point, why aren't we cheering a man who is publicly teaching our sons and daughters that in the United States you are free to stand up for what you believe, even if your government doesn't agree? Now that's something worth fighting for.
HBT: Carlos Ruiz was lifted from Sunday afternoon’s game against the Reds after straining his right hamstring while running the bases in the bottom of the second inning.
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