I would fucking love to do this story for Drunk History.
THE VIOLENT IRISHMAN BEHIND AMERICAN PATRIOTISM
The 1908 Summer Olympics held in London, England were arguably the first time Americans started getting serious about the flag. Many of the medals were won by Irish NYPD and this is back in Gangs of New York days when you basically had to be a murderer to become a cop. New Yorkers such as John Flanagan, Johnny Hayes, Pat McDonald, Martin J. Sheridan, and Matt McGrath (above), were collectively known as “The Irish Whales” and they had more trophies than a pub has pints.
During the Olympics’ “Parade of Nations,” it was a customary for teams to dip (lower) their nation’s flag as a show of respect for the ruling monarch of the host country. Sheridan, an Irish discus thrower, was the head of the American Olympic team. He had immigrated to New York in 1901 and joined the NYPD in 1906. The patrolman hated the English with a passion because he believed they exacerbated the Irish potato famine.
Sheridan was scheduled to carry the American flag at the parade but the Olympic committee were all too familiar with his antics and replaced him with a guy called Ralph Rose. This pissed of the Irish NYPD. Patrolman McGrath was 6’2″, 245 pounds and he was a hammer thrower born in Ireland in 1878. As the Americans approached the Royal Box, McGrath broke ranks, marched over to Rose and yelled, “Dip our flag and you will be in a hospital tonight.”
For the first time in the history of the Olympics, the flag was not dipped and it caused an international incident. During a news conference, Sheridan was expected to apologize. Instead he told the audience, “This flag dips to no earthly king” and added that he spoke for the entire team.
The precedent was set and no flag has dipped since. Soon after, the United States Flag Code was officially changed to read, “No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.”
[paraphrased from an old dude’s email]
Arabs hate Matt McGrath.