Thoughts on “Oklahoma Johnny” Hale’s Pledge of Allegiance Controversy at the WSOP
Writer’s Note: The views expressed are strictly my own and do not reflect the opinions nor the positions of the World Series of Poker, Caesars Interactive Entertainment, or the Rio Las Vegas.
I like “Oklahoma Johnny” Hale. I respect Mr. Hale. I think Mr. Hale has done a lot of good things for poker.
At age 88, he doesn’t quite get around as well as in his younger days. But Mr. Hale remains mentally sharp as a tack and personifies the prevailing wisdom we all should follow that one doesn’t ever retire from the activities he enjoys and values in life.
Earlier today, Mr. Hale gave his usual opening remarks just prior to the start of the Seniors Championship, here at the 2015 World Series of Poker. These festivities tend to be considerably longer than normal since there’s some period of reflection, including a poignant moment of remembrance for all the poker greats who are now gone, as well as patriotic fanfare connected to an age group sometimes best described as “the greatest generation.”
At one point, Mr. Hale, who was accompanied onstage by his family, introduced his daughter Debbie. She then took the microphone and asked players to rise and recite the “Pledge of Allegiance.” Most complied with the simple request like elementary schoolchildren, although quite a few within this diverse crowd, particularly non-Americans, were admittedly forced to undergo the awkward ritual of feigning loyalty to a foreign nation.
Following the ceremony, several poker players voiced their objections to the “Pledge of Allegiance” being included in the opening festivities. Twitter blew up with angry comments about the pledge being inappropriate for this time and place.
This winded preamble leads to my own take on this controversy and whether or not having the pledge is appropriate for the occasion. My view will probably come as a surprise to some and will likely offend those on both sides of the debate. Hey, that’s what provocateurs do — right?
My position is as follows: I object to the “Pledge of Allegiance” being included in any official WSOP event of any kind. My view is that this is the World Series of Poker, not the American Series of Poker. It took this tournament’s predecessors several decades to open this event up to a truly global audience, eventually creating what’s become a competitive attraction on the scale of the Olympic Games in terms of the number of nations which send participants. Jingoism in the form of pledges to any flag deals a serious setback to the international flavor of this event. Besides, we have enough patriotic rituals connected to our event already, including national anthems each day (dominated by Americans winning about 70 percent of all tournaments), Memorial Day remembrances, and the Fourth of July holiday, which traditionally marks the start of the Main Event Championship. No doubt, I support all of these activities, but I do not agree with the “Pledge of Allegiance” being sanctioned in any way with a competitive event at the WSOP.
My personal view on the pledge is even more dogmatic, and likely offensive to many. I will stand out of respect for those who take the occasion seriously. However, will not recite the “Pledge of Allegiance” under any circumstances, given the verses and what’s intended to be an oath. For me to do so would be intellectually dishonest. Like parroting a lie.
For one thing, I’m not pledging allegiance to any flag. I’ll certainly pledge my allegiance to fighting for social justice, for human rights, for peace, and for many of the principles this nation supposedly stands (and sometimes fights) for. Moreover, I’m not pledging allegiance to “one nation — under god.” That’s because I believe god is a fictional man-made myth about as real as the Easter Bunny. Not only that, but this nation was presumably founded as a secular state with no official declaration of religion, which makes any invocation of a deity to be inconsistent with the true role of government, which has nothing to do with offering what amounts to a pronouncement that god exists. Finally, I have serious trouble with the closing line of the pledge about “with liberty and justice for all.” Sorry, but that won’t fly with me, either. Not when corporate lobbyists essentially buy and run the government and innocents are gunned down by police. Not when liberty is based on economic class and justice is based on race. I’m not saying that pledge. Then, there’s the blatant hypocrisy about liberty echoing withn a nation where people can still be jailed or fined for playing poker, but now I digress. Ether re-write the verses, or expect me to remain silent.
Which now brings me to the most shocking point-of-view you’ll probably read today.
My view on this topic is completely irrelevant. That’s right. None of what I just wrote matters. The World Series of Poker doesn’t belong to me, and I certainly have no right nor desire to impose my personal political beliefs on the mass gathering of players. You come to this website to read what I have to say and what I think about things, but when I work the WSOP I’m only a part of the greater machinery that puts on the greatest show in poker every year.
Fact is, “Oklahoma Johnny” Hale has been connected to the Seniors Championship since its very inception. He’s been its tireless promoter and certainly has given much of his time to carving out a special place in poker history for seniors. I salute that commitment. Like all great spectacles which gives all those who participate a brighter spotlight and a louder megaphone, we do tend to project our hopes and desires on this very public event. Perhaps its not so much a godly instinct as a human one to create something in your own image, which also reflects your best virtues.
Mr. Hale has quite a different idea about what the Seniors Championship should be, and should represent than do I. As a proud veteran who once served in uniform, Mr. Hale and many of his generation look at this event not just as a poker competition, but a social reaffirmation of what they value and cherish. I might strongly disagree with that point of view, but they are certainly entitled to their own opinions, and Mr. Hale as this event’s longest-surviving patriarch is more than entitled to structure the opening festivities as he sees fit. One presumes the majority of players have no problem with reciting the pledge, and if that’s the consensus of opinion, then so be it.
So, I’ll continue to object to the pledge. At the same time, I shall respect Mr. Hale’s right to include things he thinks are important to the players. We can agree to disagree, and still not just be friends, but respect each other’s opinions.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s not just what makes a mass gathering like the WSOP so special that so many of us come together with different backgrounds and attitudes for a common purpose. So too, this is the essence of a working democracy.