Our nation’s fervent distain for racial bias and bigotry takes on many forms and it is no different within the sports world. What was considered OK, perhaps acceptable behavior and language decades ago, even years ago, is no longer condoned and we are quick to act when an example is brought to our attention.
For the last 40 years, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Yankees have played Kate Smith’s rendition of God Bless America at their games. The Flyers play it before games, the Yankees during the seventh-inning stretch, and both renditions have become stitches in their organization fabric.
That likely will not be the case any longer. An article in the New York Daily News on Thursday revealed evidence that some of the songs the late singer performed during her long career were racially insensitive.
As a result, the Yankees immediately discontinued the tradition and the Flyers, who did not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, not only announced they would stop playing the song, they covered up a statue of Smith that has stood outside their arena since 1987.
Her connection with the Flyers was much older and deeper. They first played the song before a game on Dec. 11, 1969 and occasionally after that it until someone in the organization made a connection between its playing and the team’s success.
On Oct. 11, 1973, Smith came to Philadelphia to perform the song at their home opener and the Flyers won. Later that season, she sang it again before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins. The Flyers won the series.
In 1975, she returned again in the Stanley Cup semifinals against the Islanders. Again, Philadelphia won. She would sing live at the old Philadelphia Spectrum twice more during her career.
The Yankees have used he song for 18 seasons, since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but stopped this year after team officials were made aware of some of the lyrics that were in songs Smith performed.
Smith was one of the nation’s biggest stars from the 1930s to 1960s. She made her career on the radio, but later transitioned to other media and even had her own television shows on NBC and CBS.
Smith, who died in 1986, had top-20 hit in 1931 when she was only 24 titled “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.” The song endorsed the Mammy Doll in 1939, which the Daily News story said was based on a racist caricature of a black woman. Smith also sang and appeared in a video for the jingle, “Pickaninny Heaven,” which contains racist lyrics and imagery.
“The Yankees take social, racial and cultural insensitivities very seriously. And while no final conclusions have been made, we are erring on the side of sensitivity.”