Here’s a practical solution to an issue that has riled professional and amateur sports for the past few years.
How about we stop playing the national anthem before sporting events, as a way of improving national unity?
Think about it: no more kneeling protests that offend Americans who view disrespecting “The Star-Spangled Banner” as unpatriotic. No more celebrity anthem fails, a la Roseanne Barr, Fergie or Chaka Khan. No more stories about high school students suspended for kneeling before the homecoming game.
Introduce the players, hand them a ball or a puck, or wave the starter’s flag—and off we go.
It makes sense, because if we’re being truly honest, Francis Scott Key’s anthem no longer serves the purpose for which it was intended: to unite Americans in a shared moment of celebration for everything this country has overcome in its comparatively brief, war-torn history.
You know the gist: Despite the British bombs on Fort McHenry in 1814, despite “the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” all night long and into the dawn “our flag was still there.”
I still get chills, but what do I know anymore?
The connection of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to sports began in 1918, two years after Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order making the song the anthem of the U.S. Armed Forces and even before Congress made it the national anthem in 1931.
The World Series pitted the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs in 1918. This was in the middle of World War I, and 100,000 American troops had given their lives.
Game One in Chicago was a lightly attended affair, the stands about half full—despite Babe Ruth pitching for the Sox.
According to the New York Times, the crowd was somber until the seventh-inning stretch, when a military band played an impromptu version of the “Banner.”
As the Times put it: “It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.”
Playing the anthem became a staple during that Series and has remained so for the next century-plus.
I’ve always enjoyed hearing it in athletic settings, because it feels like the right mood-setter before a competition: a reminder that we are one for this moment, despite our differences on and off the field of play.
However, that no longer seems to be the case for more than half of you, if the latest CBS News poll can be believed.
Among those surveyed, 58% say kneeling to protest racial discrimination is acceptable, with 42% opposed.
As with everything else in 2020, there’s a massive partisan divide and racial divide. Democrats support kneeling protesters 88%-12%; Republicans oppose kneeling 77%-23%. Independents find kneeling acceptable by a 55%-45% margin.
The divide among races is equally gaping. Whites say kneeling is unacceptable, 52%-48%. Blacks support kneeling, 88%-12%. Latinos, too, say kneeling is acceptable, 62%-38%.
Personally, I love the national anthem. And I find kneeling while it’s played to be an acceptable protest.
In fact, I find it to be a fundamentally American protest—one of the basic reasons we as a nation engaged in that “perilous fight,” the Revolutionary War and two world wars.
Maybe I’m way off base and we need to be reminded today more than ever that for all this country’s ailments and wrongs, for all the sicknesses we still need to cure, America is still “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Or maybe in 2020 we just don’t get to have nice things anymore.