Gabe Kapler is a name often spoken in the Maimon household. My husband wishes he were still managing the Phillies. My son, while admiring the current San Francisco Giants manager and 2021 National League Manager of the Year, draws on deep knowledge of the importance of a manager’s fit with a team to defend Kapler’s move to San Francisco.
But last weekend Kapler’s name took on a new resonance. In a blog post, Kapler explained that he would not be on the field for the traditional pre-game playing of the national anthem. It’s his protest against inaction on gun safety in the wake of the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. He won’t be on the field for The Star-Spangled Banner “until I feel better about the direction of our country.”
Kapler thought about going on the field and taking a knee. But he felt that an action like that would “call attention to myself” and “take away from the victims or their families.” He was also sensitive to the feelings of active military and veterans in the stands. On Memorial Day, before the Giants played the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, Kapler honored veterans by appearing on the field for The Star-Spangled Banner.
On other days, Kapler is doing what the U.S. Constitution guarantees his right to do: His father had taught him to stand for the national anthem but “to also have a seat when he believed his country wasn’t representing its people well.” As the manager of the San Francisco Giants, Kapler has a right (within the rules of the game) to be on the baseball field and the right not to be there.
He wrote in his blog:
I’m often struck before our games by the lack of delivery of the promise of what our national anthem represents. We stand in honor of a country where we elect representatives to serve us, to thoughtfully consider and enact legislation that protects the interests of all people in this country and to move this country forward toward the vision of the ‘shining city on the hill.’ But instead, we thoughtlessly link our moment of silence and grief with the equally thoughtless display of celebration for a country that refuses to take up the concept of controlling the sale of weapons used nearly exclusively for the mass slaughter of human beings.
Combat conspiracy theories — and base actions on facts
The facts speak for themselves. No other wealthy nation comes even close to deaths caused by gun violence.
Sizeable majorities of Americans want common-sense laws legislating gun safety. Yet, gun manufacturers and right-wing politicians have succeeded in using conspiracy theories to create an uncompromising, ideological minority who believe that even the most reasonable regulation — red-flag laws to keep assault weapons out of the hands of deeply disturbed people — would be a violation of the Second Amendment. They create fear of the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent to fan fears that East Coast liberals are intent on removing guns from the hands of responsible citizens.
I’ve written persistently about the importance of reading and teaching the U.S. Constitution in classrooms, grade school through grad school. I’d like now to suggest listening, understanding — and, yes, when appropriate, singing patriotic songs. As Kapler points out in his blog, the lyrics are revealing of deep American values.
Emblazoned on my psyche is the Tuesday morning patriotic assembly at Longstreth Elementary School in Southwest Philadelphia. We pledged allegiance to the flag and sang the full range of great songs in tribute to America. Two children (I was so proud to be one of them) recited short speeches. Mine was The American’s Creed.
Longstreth families were all deeply patriotic. The kids often heard their mom and dad expressing thanks that their own parents had “caught the boat” and escaped fascism and persecution in Europe. Standing for the national anthem was essential. I remember tripping over my eight-year-old feet to get up whenever even a few bars were played on the radio or TV.
From an early age, I really listened and learned from the words in the patriotic songs. Later as a university president, I asked all commencement attendees not only to rise, but also to honor America by singing the words of the national anthem, which we projected on the big screen.
The Star-Spangled Banner is definitely not anti-guns. It’s about a “perilous fight” in the war of 1812 and the steadfastness of U.S. sailors and soldiers to defend our new democracy from a quick, post-Revolutionary takeover from Great Britain. On the morning after the battle, “our flag was still there.” Finally, it affirms what the “stripes and bright stars” stand for: the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Kapler in his blog underlines his loyalty to the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” He questions the bravery of Uvalde police officers who spent an hour outside the classrooms while children frantically called 911, and a gunman executed 19 kids and two teachers. Have we made it possible that criminals brandish weapons that frighten police officers? Kapler asks us to examine the phrase, “land of the free,” “when politicians decide the lobbyists and gun industries are more important than our children’s freedom to go to school without needing bulletproof backpacks and active shooter drills.”
What we can do to restore American democracy
- Follow Gabe Kapler’s example of taking action within your own realm of responsibility. Kapler’s decision to stay off the field during the national anthem and to write about it in his blog is carefully considered. It’s also an inspiration.
- Support Democratic senators and some Republicans, including Pennsylvania’s Senator Pat Toomey, who are working for a bipartisan, constructive, sensible bill on gun safety. (How to contact them here.)
- Register and vote.
- Support candidates who are reasonable and reject ideology and conspiracy theories.
- Support public education at all levels.
- No matter how bleak things look, remember that despair is not a strategy.
As a kid growing up in Philadelphia, my heart always beat faster during our family’s frequent visits to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. After many years in other sections of what I still consider a great nation — or at least a potentially great nation — I’m really glad to be back home. I wish that Gabe Kapler were still the manager of the Phillies because he so embodies the best of this birthplace of liberty. Without him, I hope that other Philadelphia leaders will rise up to “let freedom ring” — not the selfish, hurtful willfulness of toting assault weapons, endangering the vulnerable, and undermining the best in American values — but the freedom of expression exemplified by Gabe Kapler.
Elaine Maimon, Ph.D., is the author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. Her co-authored book, Writing In The Arts and Sciences, has been designated as a landmark text. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. Follow @epmaimon on Twitter.
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Gabe Kapler, from his Instagram @gabekapler