Photo: Brian Lawdermilk (Getty)

Here is a story from the Alaskan hinterlands about an extremely shitty woman who tried to shame a college summer league baseball player and his team on Facebook for failing to properly respect the national anthem. That such a woman exists and would act in such a way is neither surprising nor all that noteworthy given the current state of things, and there’s honestly probably no reason to spend too much time thinking about her actions or motivations. The reason I bring it up here is only because the story itself, published by the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, is a rather incredible artifact of this moment in time. If you’re looking for one small-town news story that is perfectly representative of just how deranged American sports culture has become, this is it.

The particulars: Laurie Vandenberg went to a Mat-Su Miners game and became angry about the fact that one of the players, Kona Quiggle, stood with his hands behind his back during the performance of the national anthem. Vandenberg confronted both Quiggle and team execs Pete Christopher and Terry Johnson, and then followed through on a threat to try and shame the team on a local Facebook page. Vandenberg’s post, which elicited 361 comments, read:

Just wondering what others think about this. There are a couple of Mat Su Miners that put there right hand behind their back during the National anthem. I feel that is a disrespectful as football players kneeling. The assistant general manager says he doesn’t see anything wrong with it and has not noticed it at any of the games, although each game I’ve been to he they have. I was always taught hand on your heart, standing towards the flag. Did I miss something?

Everyone quoted in the Frontiersman’s story was quick to disagree with Vandenberg, but equally eager to make it clear that they are the one who is properly equipped to measure how effectively the flag is being respected in this situation. Johnson points out that he served in Vietnam, and thus knows that it’s okay to stand at parade rest during the national anthem:

Johnson explained to her that at times he doesn’t place his hand over his heart because he was taught during his service that when military personnel are out of uniform they are to stand at the position of attention or parade rest.

Quiggle points out that his dad was a Marine, and that he stands with his hands behind his back to honor a former high school baseball player who died in Iraq:

Quiggle was standing at parade rest as he has done every time since he played in a baseball game at Greenway High School in Phoenix, Arizona. This particular night during his senior year his team honored a former Greenway student and baseball player, Tyler Prewitt. Prewitt was killed in Iraq on September 28, 2004, while serving as a medic in the U.S. Army.

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Christopher needs it to be known that he used to be the captain of a fire department’s color guard, giving him the sort of hands-on experience in flag-respecting that is essential in situations such as this one:

“First off this women [sic] has no idea what the proper etiquette is for the National Anthem. I was Captain of the Fire Department Color Guard for 11 years when I was in New Jersey. No one has to tell me what is respectful and not respectful. This poor kid he was… he didn’t do anything wrong and she singled him out,” He emphatically stated. “We’re going to go about our business and let the chips fall where they may.”

Nobody except for Vandenberg is doing anything malicious here, and yet they are all party to a uniquely depressing conversation. In a sane world, the only thing to say to some fussy git who makes a big production of being upset about how another person stands and holds their hands during a boring song would be to politely ask the git in question to exit the drive-thru so that the customers behind them can place their order. Nobody really took the opportunity to do so in this case. Instead, they opted to take Vandenberg’s complaint as a serious one, scrambling to prove that, actually, they love and respect the flag the most, and have the credentials to prove it.

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This is a story that started with a crazy, rotten person infected by the idiotic ambient grievance of a crazy, rotten time haranguing a college baseball player for no other reason than she was angry and bored. And instead of treating her bad-faith complaint for what it was, the principles involved seemed to take it as a challenge, an opportunity to demonstrate their own righteousness.

And how did it all end? With the author of Frontiersman article, Dennis Anderson, perhaps infected by this patriotic one-upmanship, feeling the need to grill Quiggle on his feelings about America and read them into the official record:

I asked Quiggle some pointed questions that he gave direct answers to. I asked him if he was protesting anything?

“No” he replied.

Do you love this country?

“Yes” he answered.

Are you grateful for everything this country has provided for you?

“Of course” he said.

Actual dictatorships don’t produce stories as embarrassing as this one.