Last Friday, I was on the road in Cleveland doing some anti-harassment training for managers and supervisors. Minutes before my second session, I glanced down at my phone to check Twitter and saw that Kate Smith was trending #4.
Now, if you’re not from Philadelphia or New York, you may not know Kate Smith. In the mid-1970s, Kate Smith was the good luck charm for the Philadelphia Flyers. During their Stanley Cup runs, Kate Smith would appear before each game and sing God Bless America.
Kate Smith died in 1986. However, the team and their fans so adored Kate Smith’s rendition that, even into this season, the team would play recorded versions of Kate Smith belting out God Bless America before big home games.
Kate Smith gets ‘suspended’
Well, that’s not going to happen for the foreseeable future reports The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Rob Tornone here:
The Flyers are scrubbing their connections with Kate Smith, the late singer whose music is linked to the NHL team’s success for many fans, as the club looks into racist lyrics she sang.
“We have recently become aware that several songs performed by Kate Smith contain offensive lyrics that do not reflect our values as an organization,” the Flyers said in a statement. “As we continue to look into this serious matter, we are removing Kate Smith’s recording of ‘God Bless America’ from our library and covering up the statue that stands outside of our arena.”
Apparently, the team just learned that Kate Smith apparently recorded some pretty racist songs. Here’s more from the Inquirer article:
In 1931, Smith recorded “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” written by Ray Henderson and Lew Brown, which includes the lyric, “Someone had to pick the cotton.” There is some question about whether there was a satirical nature to the song, which was also recorded by the African American artist and civil rights advocate Paul Robeson, and was referenced in the 1933 Marx Brothers film Duck Soup.
In the 1933 film Hello, Everybody!, Smith sang “Pickaninny Heaven,” which directs “colored children” living in an orphanage to fantasize about a place with “great big watermelons.
Kate Smith gets ‘suspended’ again
Like I said above, the late Kate Smith didn’t just lose one job, she lost two.
The New York Daily News reports here that, upon learning about Kate Smith’s checkered past, the New York Yankees decided to suspend playing her rendition of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch.
The NYDN article notes that the Yankees’ investigation is ongoing:
“The Yankees have been aware of a recording that had been previously unknown to us and decided to immediately and carefully review this new information,” a club spokesman said. “The Yankees take social, racial and cultural insensitivities very seriously. And while no final conclusions have been made, we are erring on the side of sensitivity.”
While I don’t suspect that you’ll be disciplining the dead anytime soon, there are some important points to consider here:
- As I stressed at anti-harassment training, employees are responsible for their actions and how they may reflect upon their employer both on and off the clock. For example, an inappropriate social media post made on an employee’s own time can result in his or her loss of employment.
- Even pre-employment behavior that would otherwise violate the current employer’s anti-harassment behavior can provide the basis to end employment.
- However, employers should not be so quick to jump to final conclusions until investigating thoroughly. See, e.g., Jussie Smollett. Both the Flyers and Yankees are continuing to look into the circumstances surrounding the dubious recordings.