Archive for Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: Player’s political protest rips apart U.S. symbol

March 5, 2003



Toni Smith, a forward for the Manhattanville College women's basketball team, continues to draw ire while playing for the Pleasant, N.Y., school.

When the national anthem starts to play before her games, Smith makes a 90-degree turn from the flag in protest of the probable war in Iraq and what she calls inequalities in the American system.

The flag stands for Smith's free speech, among many other things, but her action misses its target.

Drive through Lawrence and you'll find gobs of yard signs scattered throughout with the writing: Peace is Patriotic. No War.

With so many protests taking place in the last few weeks, Smith would have had plenty of opportunities to convey her message. Even a separate demonstration outlining her inequalities in America could have found a place somewhere in the college town.

The sociology major, however, has established a 250-word essay explaining her actions. It appears that she is quite educated and she proved her intelligence by using the basketball court as her podium. Eventually reaching the pop culture of ESPN will attract more eyes and ears than any movement at NCAA Division III Manhattanville.

Smith must realize that her beef is with current politicians -- not a flag that symbolizes democracy and freedom.

The Manhattanville College president stands behind Smith, saying it is courageous and difficult for her to take the position. Others don't share that view. Student government members at Mount St. Mary's handed out small United States flags for fans to wave when Manhattanville paid a visit last week. On Feb. 11, Smith found another disapproving group -- fans at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Smith was met with chants of "U-S-A" and "Leave Our Country."

The most publicized run-in came Sunday when a Vietnam veteran came onto the court during the first half of the team's final home game against Stevens Tech. Jerry Kiley held an American flag in front of Smith and was promptly escorted out by security and police.

As for Smith's basketball abilities, she is a 5-10 senior guard/forward who averaged 5.4 points per game last year for the Valiants.

Smith won't be remembered for any stats compiled at a small school just outside New York City, but for a political gesture made on a stage that had a captive audience.

Whether a person agrees with Smith, one can't deny that she's passionate about what she's doing. Some college students have tunnel vision complete with keg parties and what grade is needed to just pass a class. That doesn't seem to apply to Smith.

The basketball player certainly isn't apathetic about these issues. She seems to take things more seriously than some other athletes.

At the Hoyt regional wrestling tournament Feb. 22, a Royal Valley student sang the national anthem before the tournament's championship matches. As the Star-Spangled Banner rang with a gorgeous voice through the gymnasium, one grappler wouldn't stand still. Instead, he ran in place for a while and worked on some shadow moves.

Coaches motioned him to stop, and he did. The wrestler probably isn't too worried about what's going on with foreign policy or tax cuts right now.

Athletes can become entranced in an upcoming competition, but it's not a difficult task standing for a few minutes to observe the flag.

On the Manhattanville Web site, www.mville.edu, the women's basketball roster includes short biographies about its players.

Along with a favorite movie (Days of Thunder), favorite musical artist (Lauren Hill) and favorite food (lobster), Smith had two favorite quotes, both of which seem to convey her actions in some way.

"It will be a great day when our schools get all the funding they need and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber."

That would be an interesting scene, but her other favorite quote is her battle cry.

"If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."

That's quite true, but Smith could still stand firm in her beliefs.

And she could do that with a 90-degree turn back toward the flag.

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