gentlemen, remove your hats

gentlemen, remove your hats


“Gentlemen, remove your hats.”

That’s what they say over the PA system right before the band plays the national anthem at the football games at my local university.  It’s a new thing to say that, and by new I mean in the last sixteen years.  Before that, gentlemen removed their hats without being told.  

Removing our hats is something that us gentlemen just know to do.  Our anthem etiquette demands that the hats come off and I love the ritual and the reverence.  

For our whole lives, when the anthem has played, we have stood and taken our hats off, so I’m not sure what has changed in society that the university - sorry, The University - decided it had to give us specific instructions on how a gentleman comports himself during the playing of the anthem.  I’m not sure why they decided to tell us to do something that we’ve been doing anyway for decades.  It’s rather arrogant of the institution to assume such a role. It’s worse than nagging, it’s dictatorial and I resent it.     

Don’t misunderstand me, I want to take my hat off, I just don’t want to be told to do it. Being told to take off my hat deprives me of the opportunity to show respect with a voluntary action … now it just feels like I’m following orders.  There’s an obvious irony in programming people’s patriotism in the exact moment that we’re honoring the personal freedom that is the basis for our nation.

Those words, “Gentlemen, remove your hats”, were added to the pre-game ritual sometime in that hyper-patriotic period following the September 11 attacks of 2001.  We were feeling wounded and insulted and collectively we needed to stand together in defiance against the aggressors, and every little thing seemed to matter: like whether a gentleman removed his hat for the playing of the anthem.  

That patriotic period is a wave we’re still riding and, generally, I like it.  There’s some real good that’s come of it.  We’re doing a better job of recognizing the service of our veterans and our public servants than we were before.  

We all show our patriotism in different ways - sometimes loud and in-your-face, and sometimes quietly.  Some people consider it a patriotic act to ride a loud motorcycle, and I guess that’s OK.  Some people like to drive a big pickup truck with a flag flying out the back end, and I’m in favor of both pickup trucks and flags.  

I don’t do either of those things, but I do get lumpy throated and goosebumps on the back of my neck just about every time the anthem is played - to the point that I can’t really sing along.   Same with America the Beautiful.  And, I can’t recite The New Colossus or the Gettysburg Address because I get all tight inside and my eyes get teary because those words so perfectly sum up the idealism that is our national backbone and I totally buy into it.  

I love that I was born American and I love the audacity of our spirit that I see in giant projects like Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge and Neil Armstrong’s One Giant Leap.  I visit those sites and I watch the old videos and I just want to high-five someone and shout, “ ‘Murica! ”

I love the power that I have as an American citizen.  I love that when our elected leaders do some bonehead thing - which they do with remarkable regularity - I’m free to make jokes and call them out and, heck, I can even call them on the phone and yell at them.  You can’t do that everywhere else.  

And, I love our history of victory over tyranny, and it is sad that there aren’t many of those old guys left from WW2.  Occasionally, I find myself in the old tower entrance of our church and I stop and read the names on the wall of those who served in the two world wars.  I knew some of the younger ones, but they’re all gone now.  Some widows are still left in the congregation … they must have been about 11 years old when they got married.  

Tyranny . . . that’s what it feels like when the PA guy tells me to take off my hat.  It reminds me of pictures from North Korea where a hundred thousand citizens cram the public square to hear Kim speak and they all stand at attention because someone tells them to.  

So when the PA guy tells me to take off my hat, I can’t really think of anything more American than to tell him to stick it - I’ll take off my hat when I’m damn good and ready to.  

And then I’ll take off my hat, because it is what us gentlemen do.

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