Like many of my fellow Americans, I’m taking a respite from work today. And you do know what today is, correct? It is Memorial Day, a holiday designated to pay honor to those who lost their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces. If you are one of the great multitude who do at least a little acknowledgement that this day is more than just an excuse for a 3-day weekend, thank you. Sure, you may just say something like “lest we forget” while planting an American flag next to a gravestone, or even say “thank you for your service” to someone in uniform (who has their own days, which I’ll touch on briefly in a moment), but you do understand the gravity of this day.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, there are others who add a dash… okay, a whole boatload of jingoism to Memorial Day. And at the risk of peeving off some readers who may be of a certain unsettlingly militaristic ideology, I’ll spend this post and part of the next one highlighting… or, rather lowlighting a couple of flag-waiving items (one of them literally) that leave my nose turned up.
The more fashionable sartorial of those matters is being dealt with in this space, and it has to do with my favorite sport — baseball! And in particular, what Major League Baseball has done with their teams’ on-field attire on this day. In the past few years, MLB put their teams in patriotic-in-tone uniforms, both on Memorial Day and Independence day in July. For the former of the two, MLB teams have donned uniforms with camouflage tones alongside and/or in place of the teams’ traditional colors. The below image is a primary example of that.
And believe it or not, that’s one of the more subtle versions of the military-themed unis out there. MLB and their cap & uniform suppliers have been roundly criticized for their desire to make an extra buck or two off of the whole “honor our troops” idea that Memorial Day was intended for. What, you didn’t think these were meant to be only for the players? Look at any team shop or online retailer and you’ll see these caps, jerseys, jackets, arm bands, sweat bands, and even eye black stickers on sale for
Oh, did you notice what I did at the end of that last paragraph? For sure, the introduction and use of these uniforms by MLB (and other leagues) is likely done with sincerity. But forgotten in all of this is the monetary benefit, namely who are the ones who actually get the benefits. Look at those online shops and tags and there’s fine print stating that some of those proceeds and related royalties may be designated to charities in order “to support programs for service members, veterans and military families.” The highlighting of the words “some” and “may” in that sentence is done to prove a point: How much money are those charities actually receiving? In all likelihood, MLB and their suppliers are the real monetary winners, while those military support charities may be getting scraps.
Thankfully, this “militarization” of the American sports world over the past 18 years, and MLB’s efforts in particular, haven’t gone without criticism. Nick Francona has been among the more prominent people in calling out MLB for their inauthentic patriotism. Nick never played in the big leagues (his grandfather did, however, and his father still manages there), but he is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who worked in MLB front offices. His criticism of MLB for its “lack of transparency and engagement” in how they promote their military ties cost him his job with the New York Mets a year ago. But he hasn’t relented on his stance, airing his opinions on public radio’s Only a Game and in the Military Times last summer, as well as an interview with the sports uniform site Uni-Watch.com just last week (a talk I highly recommend you read).
And this year, MLB changed course in a more subtle, more welcome way: Their teams did wear camo caps last weekend, which coincided with Armed Forces Day, a day on the third Saturday of May that’s meant to salute those still in service. (Show of hands: How many of you didn’t realize that was such a day? Don’t worry, I didn’t either.) Reportedly, 100% of proceeds from the sale of those caps will be used “to support programs for service members, veterans, and military families.” In other words… yes, those camo hats are for sale, for better or for worse.
And today, Memorial Day, all teams in action in Major League Baseball, as well as the umpires, are wearing the above patch on the front of their jerseys. I know, you’re scoffing: A poppy? But it’s a symbol that dates back to the First World War, when red poppies were seen growing among the burial sites of war dead. English soccer’s Premier League has worn poppy patches on or around Armistice Day since 2003. And the American Legion promotes its use on the Friday before Memorial Day.
A couple of final things: As reported here, these patches will only be worn today and not be sold to the general public. As well, there won’t be a single inch of camouflage on the players at all. Now that’s what I call tasteful moves by Major League Baseball, both on the field and at the cash register.
(Oh, by the way… the second Memorial Day post I had promised can be found at this link.)