The women's basketball team at Division Three Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, finished its regular season Saturday night, to the relief, one might suppose, of senior co-captain Toni Smith.
Throughout the season, while her teammates have stood with their hands at their sides or over their hearts during the playing of the national anthem, Smith has been turning 90 degrees away from the flag. She has been quietly protesting, as she has written, "the inequalities that are embedded into the American system" and "the war America will soon be entering."
If Toni Smith were my daughter, I'd be proud of her principles, her initiative, and her courage, but apparently lots of people who've attended games involving Manhattanville haven't felt that way. Before last Thursday's game at Mount St. Mary College, the student government association handed out small American flags for the 500 fans to wave. The fans responded by jeering Toni Smith throughout the game. When Manhattanville played the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy on February 11th, more than 300 flag-waving midshipmen chanted "U.S.A" and "leave our country" at Smith, as if it weren't her country as well. During Saturday's game, a 56-year-old man named Jerry Kiley marched out on to the court and held an American flag in front of Smith. After he was ejected from the gym, Kiley said Smith "disgraced herself and disgraced the flag."
Somehow, in a land where the president belittles those who oppose his adolescent enthusiasm for war by smirking and saying that protestors don't understand that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous man, I think the flag will survive the damage Toni Smith has allegedly done it. To his credit, Manhattanville president Richard Berman has supported Smith's right to express her opinion throughout the season. Would that those more inclined to mob action, mindless chanting, and jingoism might find their way to a similarly sensible, tolerant, and genuinely American conclusion, if not as regards Toni Smith, than in response to whoever next has the courage to stand up against war in a place as mindlessly inhospitable to that stand as an arena or a stadium can be.
This program aired on February 26, 2003. The audio for this program is not available.