George Hale: Is it racism?

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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - I USUALLY DO ONLY SPORTS STORIES ON THESE FRIDAY NIGHT VISITS AND THIS IS ONE. BUT IT'S ALSO SOMETHING BEYOND SPORTS.

SO BEAR WITH ME.

THE NEW YORK YANKEES AND THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS BOTH ANNOUNCED THEY WOULD STOP USING A RECORDING OF KATE SMITH SINGING " GOD BLESS AMERICA" DURING THEIR GAMES. THE FLYERS ALSO REMOVED A STATUE OF THE LATE SINGER FROM THEIR SPORTS COMPLEX AFTER COVERING IT UP FOR A FEW DAYS.

IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T FOLLOWED THIS EPISODE LET ME CATCH YOU UP ON SOME FACTS OF THE STORY. APPARENTLY A YANKEE FAN COMPLAINED THAT THE FAMOUS SINGER PERFORMED TWO SONGS THAT WERE RACIST IN NATURE SOME 80 YEARS AGO. NOT THAT SHE WROTE THEM BUT PERFORMED THEM IN PUBLIC. ONE PARTICULAR SONG "THAT'S WHY DARKIES WERE BORN" TURNS OUT TO BE A SATIRIC CRITICISM OF RACISM AND THE OTHER WAS UNDOUBTEDLY RACIAL IN NATURE. WHAT WAS MISSED IN ALL OF THIS WAS THAT A NOTED BLACK ACTIVIST AND SINGER, PAUL ROBESON HAD ALSO RECORDED ONE OF THE SONGS.

THERE IS NO EVIDENCE, NONE,THAT THE EXTREMELY POPULAR RADIO SINGER OF THAT ERA WAS RACIST AT ALL. THE YANKEES PLAYED HER RECORDING AFTER 9-11 DURING EVERY GAME. THE FLYERS LATER JOINED IN AND IT BECAME SORT OF A GOOD LUCK CHARM.

GOD BLESS AMERICA WAS WRITTEN BY IRVING BERLIN, A JEWISH IMMIGRANT FROM RUSSIA AS A GIFT TO HIS NEW COUNTRY AFTER WORLD WAR ONE. IT BECAME A SORT OF A SECOND NATIONAL ANTHEM DURING WORLD WAR 2.

IN FACT THE SONG WAS SO POPULAR THAT IT WAS USED TO RAISE MONEY FOR THE WAR EFFORT AND RAISED MILLIONS TO AID THE WAR EFFORT. SO GUESS WHO WAS FEATURED ON THE RECORDING? YOU BET, IT WAS KATE SMITH.

SO LET'S FLASH BACK TO TODAY. WHY, ALL OF A SUDDEN, DO THE YANKEES AND FLYERS NEED TO BAN THE RECORDING AND TEAR DOWN THE STATUE?
KATE SMITH HAS BEEN DEAD FOR 30 PLUS YEARS. MANY IN THE AUDIENCE TONIGHT MAY NOT EVEN KNOW WHO SHE WAS. SMITH SANG BEFORE COUNTLESS SPORTING EVENTS FOR AND WAS A VERY BIG STAR FOR YEARS.

ON A PERSONAL NOTE I SAW HER A NUMBER OF TIMES AND ACTUALLY MET HER ONCE DURING A WAR BOND RALLY. PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN AWARDED HER THE MEDAL OF FREEDOM IN 1982 FOR HER CONTRIBUTIONS AND PATRIOTISM. SHE RECORDED 3,000 SONGS IN HER CAREER AND THIS IS THE FIRST TIME ANY OF THEM HAVE EVER BEEN CHALLENGED.

THE SONG IN QUESTION WAS FROM A MUSICAL IN 1931 WHEN SHE WAS IN HER 20S.
SHE AND MANY OTHERS PERFORMED THAT TYPE OF SONG IN THAT TIME PERIOD.
BUT THAT IS WHERE WE ARE TODAY. POLITICIANS AND TEAM OWNERS ARE PANICKED OVER ANY SUGGESTION THAT THEY PRACTICE ANY FORM OF RACISM. SO THE YANKEES IGNORE THE FACT THAT THEY WERE VERY SLOW TO PUT A BLACK PLAYER ON THEIR TEAM ROSTER AFTER THE DODGERS BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER WITH JACKIE ROBINSON.

THE FLYERS FOUND IT CONVENIENT TO TEAR DOWN A STATUE RATHER THAN FACE SOME OF THE PROBLEMS FACING INNER CITY PHILADELPHIA. HUNDREDS OF WELL-KNOWN MUSICAL AND STAGE PERSONALITIES PERFORMED IN BLACK FACE IN PUBLIC YEARS AGO. THAT WOULD INCLUDE RED SKELTON, FRANK SINATRA AND JUDY GARLAND.
NO ONE WOULD OR SHOULD DO THAT TODAY. WE SHOULD ALL REACH OUT AND STOP RACISM WHEN AND WHERE WE SEE IT OCCURING. BUT BANNING A PATRIOTIC RECORDING AND TEARING DOWN A STATUE SEEMS LIKE A POOR WAY TO GO ABOUT IT.

THIS IS GEORGE HALE WITH MY PERSPECTIVE ON SPORTS.