July 3, 2020
By: Martin Fennelly
TAMPA, Fla.- Have we ever needed a Fourth of July like this Fourth of July?
As for the celebration, President Trump will be at Mount Rushmore, where word is that Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt will not be wearing masks. Stay safe, everybody!
For me, growing up, the Fourth meant Wiffle ball in the backyard while hamburgers and hot dogs grilled, and chasing each other with sparklers after dark. Or it was a baseball doubleheader or Wimbledon on TV in the morning. It was sports, always sports. It was my own American anthem.
This Fourth seems a bit hollow, even as sports grinds back into maybe grinding again. Rays “summer” camp begins today. We’re still not sure. We might be staring at lost seasons all around. It hurts around now because the Fourth and sports seem to go together, like red, white, and blue.
Saturday, we remember that day 244 years ago in Philadelphia, when we declared our free agency from England. Then our Founding Fathers chose up sides and made a nation. Didn’t do a half-bad job of it, either.
These are different times, for sure. We have been through the wringer in recent months, all of us. We are still in the grip of a pandemic, all of us. Is going to the beach even safe? Is holding a backyard party safe? We still can’t see the far shore, including in Florida, but we will get there.
And then there is all the upheaval that has made us wonder about what kind of nation we want for our children.
The Fourth is for celebrating. It’s okay to wrap yourself in the flag. And it’s also okay to protest. Anything you want. We can take it. In fact, it makes us better, stronger.
The Fourth and sports go together. There is nothing more American than these games we play. This Fourth makes me think about that more than ever.
Joe Louis fought the first time as a professional on July 4, 1934. Louis, whose face eventually was on a postage stamp, Joe Louis, made his professional debut with a first-round knockout of Jack Kracken in the Bacon Casino in Chicago. Louis earned $59.
Lou Gehrig, his Iron body wracked by a disease that would eventually kill him and bear his name, said a touching goodbye to fans at Yankees Stadium on July 4th, 1939.
I’m proud of red, white and blue sports moments.
Like the 1980 day in Lake Placid when the kids on the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviet Union for meddling in our elections. Or something like that. U.S. goalie Jim Craig, draped with a flag, searched for his dad in the stands.
Like 1936, when Jesse Owens, the son of sharecroppers and the grandson of slaves, sprinted and jumped his way to glory at the Berlin Olympics. And there wasn’t a damn thing Adolf Hitler could do about it.
Like 1947, when Jackie Robinson walked pigeon-toed onto the grass at Ebbets Field to break baseball’s color barrier.
Like the 1999 day the U.S. women’s national soccer team beat China to win the World Cup. Brandi Chastain ripped her jersey off.
I went shirtless myself that day to celebrate. You’re not eating, are you?
Red, white and blue moments, like the 1996 night when Muhammad Ali ignited the Olympic flame in Atlanta.
Or the 2002 day when Pat Tillman abandoned his NFL career to serve his country after 9/11, with a band of brothers, and the company of angels.
Or the 1976 day at Dodger Stadium when Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday ran in and rescued an American flag from being burned by protesters. Monday had served in the United States Marine Corps reserves.
John Carlos and Tommie Smith protested on the medal stand at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. They expressed themselves, their right, one of our freedoms. Same went for Colin Kaepernick’s protests.
You don’t have to agree. We don’t have to agree on anything.
That’s the beauty of 1776.
It was built to last.
A few years ago, I was at the July Daytona Beach NASCAR race. I met three winners of the Medal of Honor. One of them was named Thomas Kelley, a retired Navy captain. His eloquence stayed with me long after drivers started their engines. It roared in my head.
Kelley, 78, a retired U.S Navy captain, said, “We don’t need to make America great again — America is great.”
The Fourth is the Fourth, and it always will be.
Anybody want to play some Wiffle Ball?