Like most Angelenos I settled in Wednesday at 5 pm to watch the Dodgers, my hometown team, play the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the World Series. Game 6 on Tuesday evening had gone according to plan, following what I regarded as a minor hiccup early in the telecast when I noticed that the honor of singing the National Anthem had been given to an uniformed Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer.
“That’s odd” I thought to myself. “Of all the people who might ‘do the honors’ why a police officer?” Given the LAPD’s very mixed reputation in the community and nationally, and further in view of the fraught nature of national anthem at professional sporting events of late, this didn’t seem to be a particular ept choice.
Los Angeles, the home of the nation’s entertainment industry, has a plethora of big names (of all races, creeds and both genders), many of whom would have doubtless relished doing a nationally-televised “star turn” before a World Series game. “Why not Randy ‘I Love LA’ Newman? Why not Jamie Foxx? Why not Pink? Hell, why not Kim Kardashian (even if she had to lip-sync)?” I thought to myself.
The LAPD female vocalist (Rosalind Curry) had a nice voice though and I didn’t think much of it. It was a blip in an otherwise enjoyable ride: Tommy LaSorda had thrown out the ceremonial first pitch, the Dodgers got off to a commanding 3-0 lead and as the game progressed, the national Fox Sports feed scanned the stands for shots of retired Dodgers icons (Vin “It’s time for Dodgers baseball” Scully and Sandy Koufax among them). For those of us of a certain age (our early 60s or older) this was an enjoyable ride down memory lane. At Game 6’s end, the Dodgers seem poised to win their first World Series since 1988 the following night.
At the “same time same station” Wednesday, however, I was dumbstruck when right before game-time I looked up to see the National Anthem being sung AGAIN by uniformed officers of the Los Angeles Police Department! This time a quartet of them! Two male officers and two females. See here.
“Unbelievable!” I thought to myself and couldn’t contain my pique. I am a civil rights attorney who has litigated against police and corrections personnel (including but not limited to the LAPD) for most of my professional career. The LAPD’s checkered reputation (I am being charitable) is extremely well deserved. The Department spent many years under a U.S. Justice Department-imposed federal consent decree for habitual use of excessive force against minorities and every other manner of oppressive and corrupt police patterns and practices. Those “bad old days” are still with us, albeit some improvements have been made since the worst of times dating back to the 1992 rebellion following the acquittal of the LAPD officers criminally charged for beating Rodney King within an inch of his life. Enough change for the consent decree to have been lifted a few years ago (for better or worse) by U.S. District Judge Gary Feess.
Alas, LAPD officers’ uses of deadly force in circumstances that do not warrant it remain legion. Later this month I will represent one such shooting victim, Cash Ferguson-Cassidy, who was shot without any advance warning by LAPD Officer Jacob Maynard with a M-16 rifle (while walking out the back sliding glass door of his friend’s San Pedro house at 2:55 am to get some air) and survived, in a case that is now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s titled Ferguson-Cassidy v. City of Los Angeles, et al., Case No. 15-56573.
The selection of LAPD officers to sing the National Anthem for BOTH the penultimate and final games of the World Series could only have been intended as a Trumpian political message of glorification of police (and military) personnel irrespective of whether it is merited and earned. It was an anomalous message for Dodgers’ baseball to send.
The Dodgers’ organization is renowned for pioneering the integration of major league baseball when then Brooklyn Dodgers’ General Manager Branch Rickey famously signed Jackie Robinson (whose family was honored before Game 1 of the World Series in Los Angeles). And has featured ethnically diverse rosters ever since.
It was startling and disappointing (to put it mildly) to see the Dodgers’ front office act with such callous insensitivity to the legions of African-American and Latino fans oppressed by the LAPD over the decades by honoring the organization on both the closing nights of the World Series that concluded the Dodgers’ legendary 2017 season.
Unlike on Tuesday, on Wednesday the (kill-joy) singing of the National Anthem by a LAPD quartet seemed to cast a pall on the ensuing game. The Astros immediately roughed-up Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish and within minutes of the first pitch being thrown (which was hit for a double by Astros’ lead-off hitter George Springer) the Astros had jumped out to a 2-0 lead. With Springer’s 3-run homer in his second at bat the Dodgers had been met with the baseball equivalent of “shock-and-awe.”
When the second inning ended I was still irked over the National Anthem and made a connection (based on my increased theism in recent years) and tweeted out the following:
#WorldSeriesGame7: God is punishing #Dodgers organization for honoring the flawed & oppressive LAPD 2 games in a row w/ singing nat’l anthem
My tweet drew 2 Likes, 1 Retweet and 4 replies. One respondent (who seems to have libertarian leanings) pointed out that the New York Yankees had evidently done the same thing before one or more of the Yankees’ American League championship series games against the Astros. Another chided me for my theism, saying: “Your so called god only exists to punish when you see fit to perceive it that way.” And 2 “detractors” also chimed-in in language Twitter hid behind the warning: “Show additional replies, including those that may contain offensive content.” (They were pretty tame.) All tolled, my tweet drew 1,739 “impressions” – a term I confess I understand only a bit better than my clueless senior Senator from California, Diane Feinstein.
I respectfully disagree with my non-theist Twitter respondent. I do believe there was something in the nature of (or at least resembling) divine retribution about the manner in which the Dodgers’ organization’s sin (in boosting the flawed and oppressive LAPD) was immediately punished on the field by the Astros. And whether it actually was God’s influence or merely (secular) “poetic justice”, the Dodgers’ front office’s insensitivity to their players and fans of ethnic minority descent, who are all well-aware of the LAPD’s deserved reputation for racism and brutality, seemed to have had a palpably upsetting and demoralizing negative effect.
In light of the “take a knee” controversy involving professional football players the Dodgers’ foisting of the LAPD on the exciting festivities before the last and deciding World Series game was self-defeating. The Dodgers’ roster includes players from around the world: Yu Darvish, their starting pitcher in Game 7, is from Japan and of mixed Japanese and Iranian parentage. Yasiel Puig is of Afro-Cuban heritage and defected from Communist Cuba in 2012. Dave Roberts, whose mother, like Darvish’s, is Japanese, is currently the only African-American manager in the major leagues.
Given its origin in the War of 1812 (during which some American slaves fought with the British, which fact made its way into one of Francis Scot Key’s verses (not sung today) and further in view of Key’s own racism, the National Anthem is itself at least somewhat controversial.
Having it sung for TWO consecutive nights by officers of the LAPD, the organization led for several decades by racists William Parker and Darryl Gates (although it has had better leadership since), seems to have elicited approximately the same reaction in some members of the Dodgers on the field and in the dugout as it did in me (whose baseball career ended on the 1971 Beverly Hills High School junior varsity team) sitting at home. All we know is that even though Clayton Kershaw shut down the Astros hitting, the Dodgers few rallies fizzled and they produced but one run the entire night. The Dodgers simply weren’t themselves. Something was bothering them from the get-go and they never got untracked.
Why did the Dodgers’ executives do it? My own surmise is that the union representing LAPD’s rank-and-file officers, the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), might well have demanded that their officers be accorded these prized star turns. LA’s elected pols, so dependent on the LAPPL for both endorsements and contributions to their campaigns, might have lobbied the Dodgers’ front office to go along. Caving in to such special interest euchring is not the conduct we hope for from powerful figures (such as those who own and run a highly successful professional baseball team) in our “land of the free and home of the brave” is it?
In an age of lone wolf terrorism and misguided perception of the police as unqualified “heroes” (the better view is here) the Dodgers’ brass’s blunder is a perhaps understandable moment of weakness. But it’s one that probably cost their team and players the 2017 World Series.
All disappointed Dodgers fans can say and do now is perhaps endorse the thought expressed above to Dodgers’ management (in hopes for better judgment in the future). And “Wait ’til next year.”
Eric C. Jacobson is a civil rights lawyer living and working in his hometown of Los Angeles. He is a member of the bars of the state of California and the District of Columbia and is admitted to practice before multiple federal trial and appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.