This column was originally published on Sept. 26, 2016, and because of the comments of the president, it’s very relevant almost a year to the day. I am heartened to see the protests against police brutality on minorities rising to such a prominent level in the American debate. Now let’s remember how silly it is that people get upset when people take a knee to a song about a fort being bombarded.
Another week of the NFL is coming to a close, which means we have another round of reports and hot takes on the National Anthem, and who did and didn’t kneel in protest. On one side are supporters, who argue that 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick is right to use his stage to speak out against the injustice of police officers shooting unarmed black people, on the other are the people who say to not stand for the National Anthem is an insult against the troops/all cops everywhere/America/insert broad apolitical group used for political gain here.
Kaepernick’s protests have inspired others to join him, even in other sports. They have also brought down a lot of heat from talking heads on TV and police unions alike. Which lead to the Seattle Seahawks doing a “protest” so careful not to offend either side it had no purpose. The issue is far from resolved, and it seems like every week another controversial shooting makes headlines.
But whatever happens, Kaepernick has exposed one thing about America: no one really cares about the National Anthem.
And there’s good reason for that. As I touched on a couple weeks ago, when you stop and think about it, it’s sort of weird that we play a song we decided should be the national song before every professional sports game in the country. There’s no real reason for it, we’ve just always done it, and we’ve been told there’s a certain way to listen to the National Anthem as it is played at a sporting event. When someone doesn’t follow the made-up rules, we get mad, and we don’t really know why.
When you watch a game at home, do you stand and remove your hat? Do you sing along, mouth the words, or keep your jaw flexed with pride? Do you sway with the beat? Of course you don’t, the National Anthem is almost never televised, unless it’s the Super Bowl or another championship game, and that’s only because someone famous is doing the honors. Even then, you sit on your ass, eat your nachos, drink your beer and carry on your conversation, because you don’t actually care about the National Anthem, and no one is watching you.
It’s not like they open sessions of Congress with the National Anthem. You don’t walk into your office and begin your day singing it with your coworkers–that is unless you’re a professional athlete. It’s pretty silly.
The “Star-Spangled Banner” is the tune of an English drinking song. We couldn’t even bother to write our own National Anthem. We took the tune, and applied it to a poem written by Francis Scott Key about that time we let the British burn our capital, but damned if we’d let them take Baltimore! It’s from a war we forgot about. It’s got a couple verses that we choose not to sing, one of which is about slaves hired by the British. It’s not even our favorite song about our country. We all enjoy “America the Beautiful” much more, and it was almost voted our National Anthem.
It makes sense that we play it after we win gold in international events. Athletes are representing their countries, so when the U.S. wins, it’s only fitting that we make the losers listen to the National Anthem, just to rub their noses in it. It would even make sense to play it at sporting events to honor the military–you know, when the NFL isn’t charging the military for the honor of being honored.
If the song is an emblem of America, it stands for freedom, which includes the freedom of expression. But in reality, it’s just a song we ignore for the most part, used as a marketing ploy by various leagues. Now, we act like we care about it because we don’t like what the people protesting represent. We’re getting mad because people aren’t all doing the same thing at the same time in honor of freedom. Does anyone else see the hypocrisy in that?