Not My Definition Of Courage

Phillip Marshall's columns on Auburn, SEC and college sports are published twice each week.

Her name is Toni Smith. I've never met her, but I don't think I would like her.

Smith is a basketball player at Manhattanville College. I don't know if she's any good or not and don't care. All season she has turned away from the flag when the National Anthem is played before games. Smith said in a written statement that her opposition to impending war with Iraq was part of her reason for protest, but not the main part. "For some time now, the inequalities that are embedded into the American system have bothered me," Smith wrote. "As they are becoming progressively worse and it is clear that the government's priorities are not on bettering the quality of life for all its people, but rather on expanding its own power, I cannot, in good conscience, salute the flag."

I, too, have serious misgivings about the thought of going to war with Iraq. I, too, often question our government's priorities. Smith, or any of us, is free to express such misgivings. Yes, she is free to turn her back on the flag if she chooses to do that. But I don't have to like it.

When Smith turns her back on the flag, she is turning her back on the uncle I never met who won a Silver Star and gave his life in World War II so she could have that freedom.

She's turning her back on my classmates who went to Vietnam and did not return. They didn't choose to go. They didn't start that war. They went because they were told to go.

She's turning her back on my grandfather, a country boy from rural Alabama, who fought for freedom in France in World War I.

She's turning her back on my father, who went to fight a war foreign to his instincts because it was his duty to go. She's turning her back on the astronauts on Challenger and Columbia who died trying to make the world a better place to live.

She's turning her back on heroes like Abraham Lincoln, who had the courage to say all men should be free.

She's turning her back on all of us.

I grew up in a time of great unrest. Thousands marched against the Vietnam War. I supported their right to protest, though I didn't agree. Protesting is one thing. Turning your back on the flag is quite another. Because brave men and women have fought and died for what that flag stands for, Smith has opportunities most in the world only dream of. She is getting a college education, competing in a sport she loves. She is free to say what she wants. She is even free to turn away from the flag if she wants. If she doesn't like the government, she is free to vote against those who are running it.

Manhattanville president Richard Berman said what Smith is doing "is courageous and difficult." His definition of courage isn't the same as mine.


Just when a lot of people were ready to write off the Auburn basketball team, the Tigers pulled themselves together again. Saturday's 80-75 win at Ole Miss was as big as any this season. Auburn is two wins away from a certain ticket to the NCAA Tournament. One might be enough, though I think that's a long shot.

Few Auburn teams have looked worse than the Tigers did in losing 63-47 to Mississippi State at home on Wednesday. But basketball is a funny game. They went to Ole Miss and hit a remarkable 72 percent of their shots in the first half. When shots fall, everything looks better.

Cliff Ellis and his staff did a heck of a job of bringing the team back from Wednesday night's meltdown. As the Tigers head down the stretch, big things are possible. Auburn goes to LSU on Wednesday in search of its fourth SEC road win. Like all road games, it will be difficult. The games that decide Auburn's fate will probably be against Florida and Arkansas at home. The Tigers should beat Arkansas with little problem. They probably match up with Florida better than they did with Mississippi State.

If Auburn can win two of the next three, it will probably go to Starkville for the regular-season finale with the West Division title, or at least a share of it, on the line. Considering where this team a year ago, it would be hard not to call that a very successful season.

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