For the past several seasons, the Oakland Athletics and almost all of the other Major League teams have celebrated the Fourth of July with special patriotic uniforms. From camouflage-colored hats to logos adorned with stars, there is no doubt that the uniforms reflect the spirit of the holiday.
When the A’s took the field on Saturday afternoon, they had flag patches on the sleeves of their jerseys, just like all of the other teams. The design is similar to that of the patches worn on military uniforms, and it is certainly meant to be an honorable tradition. But are those patches really conveying the message of respect that the teams intend for them to convey?
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The United States has a “Flag Code”, which explains the proper guidelines for the handling of the national flag. This code was formerly law, but the Supreme Court has twice ruled that any type of criminal punishment for violating the Flag Code is unconstitutional. Because the enforcement of it would conflict with First Amendment rights, it has no real teeth.
Title 4 United States Code §8(J) states that “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.”
The statute goes on to say that flag patches can be worn by military and emergency personnel, as well as members of patriotic organizations. But athletes are not serving their country, they are playing a child’s game. Therefore, they are not permitted to wear the flag as part of their uniforms.
Because the law specifically excludes athletic uniforms, is MLB being disrespectful by ignoring the Flag Code and having their players wear patriotic gear?
Certainly, the teams don’t intend disrespect. Part of the proceeds from the sale of patriotic-themed hats typically goes towards veterans’ charities, which is a honorable goal. Although the league certainly makes a profit as well, they do seem to believe that they are being patriotic with their uniforms.
But as one of the biggest corporations in America, MLB has a responsibility to know that the flag was not intended to be displayed on their jerseys. The right thing for the league to do would be to follow the code as it was intended, regardless of what their intentions might be.
Yes, MLB has the First Amendment right to do whatever they would like to the flag, but should they?