God and the Little League Pledge

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My son is a ballplayer.

By “ballplayer,” I don’t mean he’s the next David Wright or Mike Trout. I simply mean he plays Little League baseball, has a bit of scrappiness to him, enjoys the game and the weekly tradition of a post-game Slurpee.

He’s now participating in fall ball, and before every game the kids line up along the first and third baselines to recite the Little League pledge. Which sounds like a pretty nice tradition—reinforcing the ideals of teamwork and sportsmanship. Seriously, I have no problem with that. Hell, in this age of hyper-competitive nonsense, I encourage it.

That being said, here’s what they utter, in unison …

I trust in God
I love my country
And will respect its laws
I will play fair
And strive to win
But win or lose
I will always do my best

I know what I’m about to write goes against the ideals of every Sarah Palin-loving slave to patriotic godliness, but, man, do I cringe when the first line comes out. Really, I don’t get it. What the hell does trust in God have to do with Little League baseball? Personally, I don’t believe in God, and I’m not sure my kids do, either (actually, I know my daughter, who’s 12, doesn’t. But I’m not sure about the 9-year old). But that doesn’t mean we don’t subscribe to fair play, to sportsmanship, to teamwork and positivity. We do.

Now, I know, many would argue, “Who cares? They’re just words.” And, on the surface, that’s true. But I believe there’s something more important here; a lesson on personal beliefs and not merely going along because you’re supposed to, well, merely go along. Why does a kid who doesn’t believe in God need to say, “I trust in God.” Or why does a kid who doesn’t believe in God need to say, “I don’t believe in God, so I’ll sit this one out.” In fact, why does a kid who does trust in God need to declare aloud he trusts in God? It’s all very personal stuff, best kept off the diamond.

To be clear, there are no bad intentions here. None. The coaches, the league—they’re all just doing their best. In fact, I don’t even think Little League of America is making any weird efforts to squeeze religion into baseball. A quick glimpse at the website offers this explanation, which is quite interesting:

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 10.45.43 AMFurther down on the page, Little League makes clear the pledge is optional. It says: “Whether to recite the Little League Pledge, play or sing the National Anthem, or say a prayer, is entirely up to the local league’s Board of Directors. While many local leagues and districts include a recitation of the Little League Pledge in ceremonies, it is not, and has never been, required to be recited by any person involved with Little League Baseball or Softball.”

Personally, I prefer the pledge be said, but without the God line.

It adds nothing.