By John Kline
A half hour before the first pitch of Tuesday afternoon’s Goshen College baseball game, Jodi Beyeler stood between the home dugout and the press box directing traffic as best she could.
She pointed people in this direction and that direction. She handed out literature about this small college of about 1,000 students affiliated with the Mennonite Church. The media circus was in town and Beyeler, a spokeswoman for GC, greeted it with a smile.
“It’s a little hard to believe,” Beyeler said before the start of an otherwise routine doubleheader with Siena Heights University. “There are a lot of reporters here.”
Beyeler continued her work and introduced herself to print and television reporters from South Bend, Indianapolis, Chicago and New York.
On the map
If there’s one thing that can be said about the controversy surrounding Tuesday’s playing of the national anthem for the first time at Goshen College, it’s that the college has definitely been put on the map.
Scores of media members outnumbered regular spectators on a clear and crisp spring afternoon. Players on the two baseball teams could hardly spit without hitting a reporter or photographer.
According to Richard Aguirre, director of public relations for GC, articles surrounding the anthem controversy have been picked up by hundreds of media outlets both nationally and internationally since the issue gained national attention on “The Mike Gallagher Show” last November.
On Tuesday an article on GC’s playing of the national anthem before its home baseball game was featured in “USA Today,”
An earlier Associated Press article that was published when the controversy first came up was picked up on 273 news Web sites all over the country, Aguirre said. The story was also circulated internationally in Latin America, Malaysia and Japan. About three weeks ago Aguirre was interviewed via e-mail by a reporter in Beijing, China.
“(That) one that kind of blew me away,” Aguirre said. “I mean why would a Chinese news outlet have interest in this? Why would Japanese news outlets be interested? Why would a news outlet in Malaysia be interested? It’s baffling, but I guess conflict and disagreement are always going to be things that appeal to people. So that aspect doesn’t surprise me.”
To date, articles on the controversy have been published on many Web sites, including ABC News, The Boston Herald, CBS News, The Chicago Sun Times, Forbes Magazine, Fox News, The Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald, The New York Times, Time Magazine, and The Washington Post.
Several radio stations have also thrown their hat into the mix, the most recent being a widely-heard interview of GC President James Brenneman by CBS Radio.
“That was probably another major way people heard about this,” Aguirre said. “And of course, the article in (Tuesday’s) edition of ‘USA Today’ has definitely spurred a lot of conversation as well.”
In the public eye
While the amount of national and international media attention surrounding the anthem controversy has come as a bit of a surprise to Aguirre, he noted that this is not the first time GC has been in the public eye.
“When CNN came to GC to interview students during the 2008 presidential election, that got lots and lots of base coverage, and a lot of people heard about us from all over the world,” Aguirre said. “Regarding the anthem issue, we knew this was a decision that would have an impact on our campus as well as our 16,000 alumni.
“We thought there would be some local interest, because when the previous interest occurred with Mike Gallagher, that got a fair amount of news coverage. But I guess we didn’t know that it would travel to this extent.”
While the amount of attention focused on GC has not always been easy for the school, Aguirre said that the attention has not been without its positives, most notably the opportunity for the school to dialogue with its members and the greater community on the issues that are nearest and dearest to its heart.
“These are kind of complex issues,” Aguirre said. “They’re not as easy to grasp as say a fire, or a legislative bill, or something like that. This has to do with our complex feelings on our faith, and our patriotism, and their interconnection. So on that level, the level of interest shown has been a bit of a surprise.”
Aguirre admitted that not all of the dialogue has been supportive of the college’s decision to begin playing the anthem at certain sporting events for the first time in school history.
Even so, he noted that with continued dialogue will ultimately come a greater understanding of that decision, whether or not one is for or against it.
“I’m not saying that we won’t have people who are still unhappy about us playing the national anthem,” Aguirre said, “but they definitely will have a better understanding of why we’re doing it.”
History is done
Paul Housholder works for Goshen College doing sound and video work. He was alone in the press box Tuesday when the time came to hit the play button on the iPod Nano that contained a statement, the anthem and a prayer.
He was casually impressed and amused by the media horde below as it snapped pictures and scribbled down notes.
From beginning to end the whole ordeal lasted about 3 1/2 minutes. The last words from the P.A. were “play ball,” which is what GC and Siena Heights did moments later.
“I guess history is done,” Housholder said with a chuckle. “Now we can go have lunch.”
Managing editor Michael Wanbaugh contributed to this report.