profundity from the sports pages

I do look at the sports pages! It's just that I don't look for what most everyone else looks for. Sometimes it's an item about culture, the large-mouth bass, a really hot photograph, a heart-warming human vignet, and sometimes it's about freedom.

Yesterday I first read in the NYTimes Sports pages about what many had already heard, that a young woman at Manhattanville College, Toni Smith, was bravely exercising her freedom of speech on the floor of a basketball court.

It was the smallest of gestures inside the tiniest of college basketball gymnasiums, a half-revolution of the body that had gone unnoticed for months.

But a few weeks ago, people at Manhattanville College's women's basketball games began to recognize that the senior guard Toni Smith would quietly turn her back to the American flag during the pregame playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," a silent protest, they learned, of America's potential involvement in an Iraqi war.

Two nights ago her stand, and the enormous outrage it provokes among Americans who wrap themselves in the flag rather than defend the liberties it represents, came to the attention of the world.Smith's noiseless protest led to a clamorous, sellout crowd for a game inside Manhattanville's 50-year-old, 300-seat, cinder block gym tonight in the middle of the college's leafy campus 25 miles north of New York City. It brought 15 protesters outside the college's main gate waving flags and placards, and a retinue of police officers and security guards to watch them. It attracted 20 photographers and a handful of national television cameramen who encircled the Manhattanville bench to get a glimpse of Smith as she turned her back and stared at the floor.
A very impressive letter in today's Times represents a sharp understanding of the significance of Smith's gesture and why we should be very concerned about those who are so outraged by it.

To the Editor:

Re "Player's Protest Over the Flag Divides Fans" (Sports pages, Feb. 26):

On the one hand, patriotic Americans appear obsessed with the flag as a symbol of cherished freedoms. On the other hand, many of the same Americans are angry and intolerant when Toni Smith exercises her right to practice the most fundamental of those freedoms.

Toni Smith, a senior guard on Manhattanville College's women's basketball team, turns her back to the flag during the pregame playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" to silently protest America's potential involvement in a war on Iraq.

The rancor exceeds mere disagreement. The patriots are offended by Toni Smith's observance of a First Amendment right.

Because free speech is so fundamental to American notions of freedom, the act of protest is inherently patriotic, regardless of the point of view or substance. If that is not the case, it is immaterial whether the military has fought and sacrificed for the First Amendment freedom to protest.

Portland, Ore., Feb. 26, 2003

comment toni is very brave to stand up for what she belives in.

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Published on February 27, 2003 1:38 PM.

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