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Is That Anyway To Treat A Flag?

Reader NRH noticed Natalie Gulbis's lack of American flag etiquette, but perhaps since she won the Evian Masters on French soil she was entitled to treat the flag as a stool cover? 

Now boys and girls, let's try to keep the photo captions PG-13 courtesy of


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Reader Comments (46)

Wouldst that I were that flag!
07.30.2007 | Unregistered Commenterjneu
As a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, I personally find it troubling that this occured, however, I can't claim surprise that it happened. While I am sure that Ms. Gulbis was simply told by some flunkie to assume this pose (so it probably wasn't entirely her fault), the truth is that she is ultimately responsible for her public image. To show that I am not singling her out, let me state that Americans are woefully ignorant about flag etiquette: The public courses that I play at regularly display the Texas state flag upside down (star pointing down), fail to have the flag at half staff during Memorial Day, and fail to have the field to the left when displaying Old Glory hanging from the ceiling--it is a mess! Let me also state that this picture is particularly offensive: Not only is Ms. Gulbis sitting on the flag, but it is touching the ground and is being depicted as upside down--which should only be done in specific, extraordinary circumstances. Ultimately, my real surprise is that the LPGA allowed this horrendous photo to be disseminated to the public.

Damian W. Smith
Staff Sergeant
U.S. Air Force Reserve
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterSmitty
Yeah, I spent 18 years on active duty and am currently a reservist, and basically I agree with everything Smitty said. Some of the smaller etiquette breaches that you see around homes and schools are easier to excuse, but this one is very, very bad.

I remember as a kid when a flag was thrown by a spectator at Dodger Stadium, and Rick Monday sprinted and dove to catch the flag before it hit the ground. The Gulbis photo suggests that many people do not know even this most basic flag etiquette anymore.
07.30.2007 | Unregistered Commenter86general
That's one of the low moments in our treating-the-flag history.

The one at the below link was headed for that list, but some quick action by a Dodgers outfielder made it a moment flag lovers will never forget!

07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterJay
Thanks for the link Jay. It shows how easily one's memory fades...he was preventing a burning, not catching a falling flag. Anyway, at least I remembered the correct player, location, etc.
07.30.2007 | Unregistered Commenter86general
I choose to see this as patriotic actually. She won the tournament, her first, is obviously quite happy, and shows no intent to disrespect her country. I see the picture as showing she is an American and wants people to know. I can understand and respect the opinion of veterans such as yourselves, so please don't hammer me on this. I am just giving my opinion.

Now if a non-American won the Womern's US Open or any event for that matter, and posed in this way, that would be very very disrespectful..

However skewed I may qppear to be in my thinking, to compare it to an attempted flag burning is over the top just a little.

As an endnote, people who are disrespecting the flag of our great country are not necessarily against the USA, but showing their distaste for the actions of the executive branch.

Given the above, jneu, your comment is truly priceless!!! hahahaha
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterGeoff C
Geoff C.--I used to allow well-meaning and patriotic folks such as yourself the excuse of protesting the Chief Executive by flag burning, but now I cannot. My suggestion is that you speak to the press and e-mail your duly elected representatives the critiques and complaints that you may have. Abuse, whether directed at the flag or the President by burning each in practice or in effigy suggests a character of less than high moral fiber--abuse should not be tolerated by anyone in this country.
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterSmitty
Smitty, I am not a flag burner and I do not see anything in my post that is any way unpatriotic or disrespectful. Why you have chosen to take my endnote, which is an observation I am sharing, and play it against me as my own point of view, is pretty darn crude and evidence of crank journalism.

Please read what I say, and not what you want to read so that you can satisfy your own need for emotional titillation.

As I said in the beginning of my post, I respect the opinion of those who are in or have been in the armed services [and therefore know the proper care and respect due to the flag] "so please don't hammer me on this."

Thanks :)

07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterGeoff C
Geez it's only a flag, if you want to see some horrendous photos take a look at what's going on in the middle east sometime.
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterIan C
Geoff C.--To answer your points: First of all, I never thought you were a flag burner. Secondly, you are right, there is nothing in your post that was unpatriotic or disrespectful. I did take it as an observation and not your point of view simply because there was no "I" in that particular statement. I, on the other hand, have no need for emotional titillation and do believe that you respect those that have served their country. That being said, please understand that I was honestly stating that you are well-meaning and patriotic. What I was trying to state (perhaps ineffectually) was that third parties who engage in such behavior (who, I believe, are generally patriotic & well-meaning) could act in a more constructive way to engage their leaders and effect political change. Please accept my humble apologies for any offense I may have caused you.
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterSmitty
Having photographed tournaments, I have seen first-hand how chaotic the awards ceremonies and trophy photo shoots can be for the player, especially if it's a major, or if there's a first-time winner. I wasn't there, but considering all these factors and the "surreal" moment that Natalie was experiencing, she could not have been in the right state of awareness to even comprehend that sitting on that flag could be seen as unpatriotic and offensive.

So I will cut her all the slack she needs, heck I'll give her a big hug if it helps her! Natalie has come along way from the bikini girl to a champion, and I hope she continues to be a factor on the LPGA.
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterRM
My own view, for what little it's worth, is that Gulbis should be allowed to do whatever she wants to the flag -- I mean, we Americans harbor the noble ambition of being the freest country on earth, right? -- but...

...that said, her behavior I would describe as a rudeness borne of ignorance. It's like someone coming over to your house for dinner and using your linen tablecloth to wipe their mouths, not because they dislike you, just because they don't know any better.

I'm certain we can all agree she will get a nice lesson in flag etiquette out of this, and probably turn it into a positive, like doing something additional for our troops!

But enough of this, on to the work at hand...

"Does this make my butt look big?"
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterStephen
Tough to make a case for desecration or disrespect these days, what with people wearing all kinds of stars-and-bars clothing in an effort to publically display their patriotism in the wake of 9/11.

So with that in mind I see noting worth getting upset about here.

Personally, I'd love to see this photo reproduced in poster size and plastered everywhere Al Quaida and radicial Muslims hang in the Middle East because it symbolizes everything about us they hate.

And kudos to Natalie. She succeeded where Laura Davies, Anna Kournakova and so many others have failed.
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterRodin's Model
Geoff C:

Please don't see this as "hammering," but I want to respond to what you said.

I think much of what you said is 100% correct--I doubt she intended any disrespect, and probably was trying to express pride. I don't think it comes close to an attempted flag burning.

For me, it's not a righteous moral issue, but it is a matter of etiquette, and it's not a trivial one.

The photo is light hearted and possibly intended as patriotic by her. But she is using a powerful symbol in that photo as a prop, and she's not respecting the symbol.

Her action reflects either ignorance or disregard for customs and courtesies that are held very dear by millions of people. People who fought in wars or lost relatives in wars tend to look at the flag in a more serious way than the rest of us.

She could have accomplished the same thing - cute photo, patriotism - by waving a little flag, or draping one around her shoulders, or any number of other gestures that would have satisfied the rules of flag etiquette and avoided offending people. The fact that she didn't does not reflect well on her, the photographer, the tournament officials, or the LPGA.

Again, not saying she should go to jail or be fined or anything, but just as you don't call the Queen "old lady," you don't take liberties with the flag.

On a site where we get up in arms about the traditions of golf, the sanctity of classic golf courses, the moral imperatives of the USGA, is it really being unreasonable to get just a little upset at someone for sitting on the flag? And shouldn't the breach of etiquette be pointed out for others, in case there are more people ignorant in these matters?
07.30.2007 | Unregistered Commenter86general
I agree with 86general's assessment that most people do not look upon the flag with the same kind of reverence that we do. I just wonder if people would go to the homes of the fallen and see the cases displayed prominently there with the flags that were draped over their loved one's caskets and not have a change of thought on this matter.
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterSmitty
She's got the flag, I've got the pole.
07.30.2007 | Unregistered Commenterscribe steve

I agree with and appreciate your post. Thank you, etiquette is the right word. It is interesting that the first picture I saw this morning, which I wrongly thought was on the site - unless they changed it, was of Natalie Gulbis with the flag, as you suggest, draped around her shoulders. However, looking now I see it is the same as the one here. Perhaps another site.


My reaction to you writing "I used to allow well-meaning and patriotic folks such as yourself the excuse of protesting the Chief Executive by flag burning," led me to believe that you mistakenly thought of me as being a flag burner. Ugh.;(

I can't rightfully salute the flag, but I can put my hand over my heart ;)

Thank you both for your very graceful responses, much the same as I have always witnessed when I have visited West Point. the last time being when they got a good ol' shellacking from Air Force Smitty! Most polite people as you can find. I hope I have achieved some level of the same.

Cheers ;)
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterGeoff C
I knew this was going to be a target-rich environment even before I opened this Comments thread.
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterChuck
So long as she don't leave a brown stain on it I don't have a problem with it.
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterLeroy
Is this how the term "Ugly American" got started?
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterGarland
Does that flag have a belt buckles that says "Mustache Rides, 10 cents"?
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterTighthead
It's actually Adam Scott under that flag, not a stool. Who knew he could hold and balance 100lb on his nose like that!
07.30.2007 | Unregistered CommenterScottyboy
I never knew much about 'flag etiquette' before, but I am not American nor a member of the armed forces.

I believe very strongly that living in the 'land of the free' involves the right to cause offence as well as to be offended. As Voltaire said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

That said, I don't approve of people who knowingly cause offence without good reason. If you appreciate what it means to the bereaved families of members of the armed forces you should not take their feelings lightly. Equally, I am thoroughly bored, and not a little alarmed, by people who rush to take offence at the first sight of a minor breach. In all these questions, in a free society, it is a question of balancing the rights and sensitivities of different people.

I am 100% sure that Gulbis had no sense that she was committing a breach of 'flag etiquette' when she posed for the pictures. I am sure that it was a spur of the moment thing and most likely set up for her by the photographers.

Whilst I certainly respect the reverence that some of you have for the flag, were I her and heard a chorus of disapproval about this entirely trivial photograph I would make it my business not to associate myself with the flag again unless absolutely necessary (e.g. Solheim Cup). There are plenty of ways to celebrate when you have won a golf tournament without having to worry about stepping on the toes of the etiquette police. I'd happily leave mucking about with the flag to you lot and your rules and get on with my life without it.

Is that what you want?

07.31.2007 | Unregistered CommenterBS
Voltaire quoted on this blog twice in a week. Lucky philosophers and their estates don't draw royalties!
07.31.2007 | Unregistered CommenterScottyboy
Does Voltaire uses Butch Harmon as his swing coach, too?
07.31.2007 | Unregistered Commenterscribe steve

You're right that there is the right to protest by defacing the flag, if that is your aim. No problem with that. But if you're trying to be patriotic, you ought to respect the flag and follow the rules. I would also agree that she probably _was_ being patriotic, and had no idea that what she was doing was a faux pas. That doesn't make it ok.

You said: :were I her and heard a chorus of disapproval about this entirely trivial photograph I would make it my business not to associate myself with the flag again unless absolutely necessary (e.g. Solheim Cup). There are plenty of ways to celebrate when you have won a golf tournament without having to worry about stepping on the toes of the etiquette police. I'd happily leave mucking about with the flag to you lot and your rules and get on with my life without it."

It's not really that complicated. You don't let the flag touch the ground. You don't hang it upside down. You don't do anything overtly crude or disgusting to it. I am 42 years old and was taught this in grade school and high school, and I think it's still taught in US schools, but I'm not sure.

It's not that big a deal, she or someone should have known about it.

As I said, we get quite upset around here about classic golf courses, the ethics of the game, the responsibilities of the ruling bodies. It isn't too much to ask that someone respect a national flag. There's also nothing wrong about letting Gulbis know about it, without any need for shouting or sanctimonious attacks.
07.31.2007 | Unregistered Commenter86general
OK, I've been following the action here and it's good to see that the discussion has stayed on a professional and polite level (the sophomoric comments on the pic and Natalie aside).

Here's a question I'd like to throw out to everyone. What would be your reaction if Natalie came out on her blog or at the next tourney, whatever, and stated that she apologized for her faux pas and that she regretted offending anybody? How would all of you feel? Does this provide appropriate resolution?

Personally, she is old enough to be responsible for her actions. This also provided an opportunity for me to reinforce to my daughters (elem. school age) concepts about respect for the flag.
07.31.2007 | Unregistered CommenterPete the Luddite
I'd have to agree that if you want to use the flag in an attempt to appear patriotic it is better to inform yourself of how to do so. It's up to Gulbis - the best response would probably be to say that it was all spur of the moment, she does not want to offend anyone, and now she knows the score she won't repeat it if she's lucky enough to have another opportunity to celebrate.

However, if someone uses the flag incorrectly in a spur of the moment rush of enthusiasm I think it carmudgeonly in the extreme for anyone to describe that as 'offensive' - and to be fair to you I'm not sure you did. I don't see why the LPGA should take the photo down to avoid causing offence - they might take it down because it is a damn silly photograph, but that's another story.

On a wider note, I am a bit edgy about reverence to a flag - it smacks to me of sentimentality (in the sense of strong emotive feelings, as opposed to feelings based in logic) which is open to abuse in many ways. Soldiers don't have a choice, they have to owe alleigance to the command structure and get on with it regardless of their views, that's fair enough, and flags have always been a potent battlefield symbol.

The rest of us do not need to adopt the same attitudes, and IMHO should proceed carefully (albeit not needlessly disrespectfully).

Personally, I would rather sportsmen in individual sports did not wave flags, whoever they were/are. It is difficult to avoid in team sports, but neither welcome nor particularly necessary in individual sports - I like Mickelson but I'm not American, I don't see how his nationality comes into it until Ryder Cup time.

I cannot really respect flag-burning as a valuable political gesture in most instances because it is so non-specific - it looks much more like a random act of hatred for all things connected with the country rather than a serious way of protesting against particular policies or actions of a state which, almost by definition, a large minority of any given country will disagree with anyway. Flag-burning tends to be carried out by those with a diposition to be offended easily in any event - which brings me back to my second paragraph...

07.31.2007 | Unregistered CommenterBS
I think this is as bad, if not worse. The flag is not an article of clothing.

07.31.2007 | Unregistered CommenterDan Serafini
Dan, I have been told that there is a distinction between flag-inspired gear like that and using an actual flag. Someone here will know better.
07.31.2007 | Unregistered CommenterTighthead
I don't know what the deal is with an actual flag vs. "flag inspired" clothing currently. But, during the sixties Abie Hoffman was arrested for wearing a windbreaker very similar to the shirt shown in the link above.

The most offensive piece of flag related clothing I have seen is a pair of boxer shorts. Mostly in light blue, but with many little flags all over the garment.

As for teaching of flag etiquette, in my years of public school, mostly on the east coast, but a couple of years in the mid-west, the issue never came up, except for the constitutional issues of flag burning. I learned everything I know from my very conservative grandfather.
07.31.2007 | Unregistered Commenterjon f
Jesus, of all the things to be worried about in our current world situation, flag etiquette is what's grinding your gears the most, smitty? With all due respect, Staff Sergeant, I'm pretty sure the girl was just trying to be patriotic and, because flag etiquette isn't talked about in our shitty public school system, I'm sure she had no idea what she was doing. Honestly, take a huge chill-pill and realize that there are a lot worse things going on in this world (ahem, the war) and that there are even worse things going on in sports (Vick, NBA Scandal, Bonds...).

This is why so many people are turned off by patriotism because uber-patriots like you who take this shit WAY too seriously. You should be proud that you love your country so much but don't rag on other people just because they show their love in a way that twists your panties.
07.31.2007 | Unregistered CommenterGiovanni
It's a piece of cloth, get over yourselves. If the qualities that make the US great are embodied in a bit of fabric, we are all in trouble.
07.31.2007 | Unregistered CommenterReal patriot
Pete: That response from her would be very good, I think, and is more than enough. I would be surprised if she doesn't eventually do something like this, because everything you hear about her suggests she's a fantastic kid.

Giovanni: You might want to read all of the comments. I think you're overstating Smitty's position. This discussion has been polite and nice, all the way around.

And yes, there are far more serious problems in the world than Natalie's ass on the flag, and the flag on the ground...but the same can be said of the ProV1 rendering "classic courses obsolete," or Walter Driver, or any number of other things we carry on about here. Nothing wrong with discussing this in the nice way we have been doing it.
07.31.2007 | Unregistered Commenter86general
"It's a piece of cloth, get over yourselves."

That's the point of the discussion to begin with. It's not just a piece of cloth. It's a symbol.

"If the qualities that make the US great are embodied in a bit of fabric, we are all in trouble."

The virtuous qualities of the US are not embodied in the flag, no. But the flag is symbolic of those virtues. If you want to be patriotic, you ought to know the proper way to display the flag.

I don't think what she did was a "personal foul," but more like "traveling." That said, there's nothing wrong or stuck up or over-zealous about being respectful of a national flag. I'd treat any nation's or organization's flag the same way.
07.31.2007 | Unregistered Commenter86general
Property rights trump symbolism. Whoever owns the bit of fabric can do with it what they want.
07.31.2007 | Unregistered CommenterReal patriot
If she responds at all to this I would be very disappointed. Who gives a shit? If she has a Pepsi, I'm sure she doesn't apologize to people because of the companies policies in Myanmar. She didn't mean any harm by it, so what's the big hullabaloo? Can we get back to discussing what a dirty bastard Scribe Steve is.
07.31.2007 | Unregistered CommenterClove
"The virtuous qualities of the US are not embodied in the flag, no. But the flag is symbolic of those virtues. If you want to be patriotic, you ought to know the proper way to display the flag."

So, by this logic, an America lovin' NASCAR fan can't wear this hat that just screams "I love America!" because all of his/her America lovin' sweat will tarnish the image of Old Glory?

I'm pretty sure, much like Natalie Gulbis, people who wear this hat have no intentions of sullying the flag, however, they simply want to show their love of their country.
07.31.2007 | Unregistered CommenterGiovanni
Real Patriot, Clove, and Giovanni:

You're missing what I'm saying about etiquette.

Rules of etiquette say what you _should_ do, based on basic ideas of courtesy and civility.

No, you don't _have_ to do anything. Property rights do indeed trump symbolism. Etiquette isn't about what you have the right to do, it's about what you should do.

The reason she would apologize, Clove, is that some people, possibly many people, might actually give a shit. It's no problem if you don't. But some people might, because the flag is very meaningful to many people. That's what etiquette is about, doing things because out of respect for others.

And Giovanni, as Tighthead mentioned, using a likeness of the flag, or red white and blue, or stars and stripes, on clothing, hats, cars, whatever, is not the same thing as an American flag.

The fact that she meant no harm may excuse her of deserving the wrath of a zealous flag waiver, but it doesn't change the fact that what she did was a breach of etiquette. The action is judged on its own merit, not the intention of the person who carried out the act.

I am not a flag waiver, or a zealous patriot, or a xenophobe, nor have I been in battle or lost a friend or relative in battle. But honestly, the fact that this argument persists amazes me. What's wrong with being respectful of the feelings of others? Even if you don't know specifics of flag etiquette, the general notion that it is proper to respect the flag cannot have possibly escaped anyone raised in the US. Any sports fan in the US has respected the flag by rising and facing it and probably putting his hand over his heart dozens of times; major league baseballers do it every day for 20 years.

All I am saying is that what she did is a breach of etiquette, is disrespectful to the flag, and should be recognized as such.

07.31.2007 | Unregistered Commenter86general
What you don't get is that you can't be disrespectful to a piece of cloth.

Nor can you perform any action in a public setting and guarantee that no one will be offended by something - whether that is Natalie wearing a short skirt offending a sexually-repressed Muslim or Natalie posing on a piece of colored cloth offending a flag zealot.

I do hope she ignores the criticism and instead enjoys her well-earned victory.
07.31.2007 | Unregistered CommenterReal patriot

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