Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Rick Monday: American Hero

It was 30 years ago that Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday charged across left field at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles and scooped up an American flag that a couple of punk kids were attempting to set on fire. That brief moment of patriotic fervor, more than anything else he did in baseball, is what people remember most about Monday today. I remember reading news accounts of the incident when it happened. I was 10 years old and a huge baseball fan. This is how I still remember Rick Monday (a 1973 Topps baseball card that I still have in my collection).

The other day, Monday was in Washington, D.C., recounting his flag-saving exploits at a rally in support of a Constitutional amendment that would make flag burning illegal. I am opposed to the flag burning amendment, but I still applaud Monday for what he did 30 years ago. Those protesters were clearly wrong in their actions and there was no need to have a law criminalizing the act of flag burning itself to punish them. They were already guilty of trespassing (the baseball stadium is private property) and disorderly conduct. One of them could have even been charged with assault. It was reported that one of the protesters threw a can of lighter fluid at Monday after he scooped up the flag.

If the protesters had wanted, they could have applied for the appropriate permits and held their little demonstration at some public place where they would not have been breaking any laws. But what they craved most was attention and they didn’t care if they broke the law to get it. That should tell you something right there about the potential effectiveness of any laws banning flag burning. Fortunately, today nobody knows who the protesters were or what they were trying to protest one year after the end of the Vietnam War. But everybody knows Rick Monday and that is for the best.

The flag burning issue comes up every year around this time. Here is what I had to say about it last year. I still stand by that statement and I hope that we can continue to honor the American flag and patriots like Rick Monday without dishonoring our First Amendment protections of free speech.

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