It's time to stop chanting "USA!" at sporting events

It's time to stop chanting "USA!" at sporting events

By PHIL DANIELS
The Cauldron

One of the greatest things about being an American is the ability to chant "USA!," or almost anything not overtly repugnant, at a sporting event or elsewhere -- largely without any fear of grave repercussions.

First Amendment scholars trolling the Internet are always quick to point out that the United States Constitution does not typically apply to private entities -- thereby calling into question one's free speech at a sporting event. But a fundamental quality of being a US citizen is the presumption, regardless of legal backing, that one can publicly declare how one feels sans fear of significant repercussions, like, say, public execution. You might get shamed or humiliated on Twitter. You might get fired. You probably won't be executed.

Free speech, both in the less understood legal context, and the oft-embraced symbolic sense, is great. But just because one has the ability to say something does not mean that one should say it. Case in point: America chants at non-Olympic and non-international sporting events.

I love sports for the same reason that I love music, French Impressionism, and opera: sports are an art form that transcends human constructs like language, religion, and culture. Whether you hail from Alabama or Azerbaijan, you will likely appreciate Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Claude Monet's Water Lilies, or Russell Westbrook violently dunking a basketball.

And therein lies my problem. Why, exactly, must we collectively make some sort of figurative allusion to patriotism or sovereign warfare to appreciate a person tossing a ball through a hoop.

The history of sport predates the history of the Olympiad. While international competition is a legitimate and fun part of athletics, it is hardly an inherent and absolute part of athletics. Assuredly, there is nothing wrong with a celebration of ethnocentric glee every two years during the Summer and Winter Olympics, respectively -- so long as patriotism does not devolve into a dangerous brand of jingoism.

Moreover, a Team USA fan chanting "USA" during a FIBA game or World Cup match is perfectly reasonable. But is it really necessary to inorganically attach nationalism to a second round ATP tennis match between John Isner and Novak Djokovic, or a regular season basketball game between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center?

Really, "USA!" chants are little more than a relic of Cold War bipolarity -- the international political reality in which effectively every country not named Finland, Austria, Sweden, or Switzerland was either "good" or "evil." Back then, Americans and Soviets were easily able to look at a map and know whether a particular country was their ally or their "enemy." Even professional wrestling went as far as to monetize bipolarity, with prominent '80s storylines portraying a patriotic Hulk Hogan defeating the villainous Russian Nikolai Volkoff -- and adding insult to injury by literally spitting on the flag of the Soviet Union.

While this may come as a surprise to some, the Cold War is over. The Berlin Wall, that proverbial Iron Curtain separating Western Europe from the Eastern Bloc, came down in 1989, and its fall ushered in a modern era of unipolarity -- with very few countries actively opposing the United States. In 2015, Russia is an (admittedly ornery) ally; Vladimir Putin, despite a slew of troubling recent transgressions, retains his seat at the grownup table; and the modern enemies of the US are not really nations, per se, but instead fringe sects within existing sovereign states.

The historical takeaway? Yelling patriotic chants at allies of the United States is at best sophomoric, and at worst just plain stupid. Or, in the case of the Lone Star State, bigotry.

An unfortunate trend from the annals of Texas high school athletics reveals that "USA" chants have cheapened from fairly-innocent showings of American pride into over-demonstrations of racism. In 2011, fans of predominantly white Cedar Park High School's boys basketball team chanted "USA! USA!" and "Arizona! Arizona!" during a contest against San Antonio Lanier High's largely Hispanic roster. The "Arizona!" chants were a reference to Arizona Senate Bill 1070 -- which in its original form on paper would have allowed for police to have reasonable suspicion to stop people solely for having brown skin, regardless of how many officers would have attempted to utilize such a sole grounds for questioning.

And those aforementioned chants from 2011 were hardly an isolated incident.

In 2012, students at Alamo Heights High School chanted "USA! USA!" toward the mostly Hispanic roster of Edison High School. And only weeks ago in 2015, members of the Idalou High School student section chanted "USA! USA!" during a girls basketball game against "Slaton High School."

Regardless of one's political leanings or views about political correctness, white American teenagers directing "USA!" chants at Hispanic American teenagers is an example of disgusting racism, with the subtext being that skin color is somehow correlative with citizenship. And it would be folly to even try to dispute the inherent racism associated with chanting a reference to SB 1070 toward a group of Hispanic American student athletes.

It would be unfair to suggest that the argument to abandon "USA!" chants is is exclusively rooted in mitigating racism. Not everyone chanting "USA!" is a racist or even behaving in racist fashion. The chants intended as ethnocentric -- probably okay, but certainly not very open-minded -- are different than those that are jingoistic. The latter are even less okay, and, regardless of how objectionable, almost always lack in tact.

Rather, "USA!" chants should be curbed at their core due to superfluousness. The United States is awesome. You know it; I know it; most citizens of other nations know it. As a result, there is simply no need to convey pro-America chants at unsuspecting foreign competitors or American minorities during sporting events. To loosely quote Zoidberg from Futurama, such chants are bad and you should feel bad for doing them.

At the end of the day, and at the risk of dumbing down complex Constitutional citizenship law, being an American is the result of either being born in the United States; being born to US citizens abroad with American residency; or navigating a complex bureaucracy of US immigration and citizenship rules and regulations.

Chanting "USA!" at an opponent is the equivalent of shouting, "Ha ha, I am the product of an American semen swimming into an American unfertilized egg, and you are not!" There are simply better things to chant about than the intersection of biology and borders.

Now, chanting "Murica!" ... that's an altogether different situation.

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