A professional football player stands in respect for his country during the National Anthem as he proudly makes a simple statement in support of freedom and equality. With his simple gesture, he believes he honors those who gave their lives in defense of his America because they paid the ultimate sacrifice for his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
A professional football player refuses to stand during the National Anthem as a form of silent protest in a country still struggling to achieve its promise of freedom and justice for all. With his simple gesture, he believes he honors those who gave their lives in defense of his America because they paid the ultimate sacrifice for his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I believe both of these players are within their rights while using their moral consciences as true patriots. I know many fellow countrymen disagree and say a player should be made to stand for the anthem and take his personal protest somewhere off the field.
National Football League players first began being required to come onto the field for the National Anthem in 2009 when the government began paying them to stage patriotic displays to boost military recruitment. Prior to 2009, players always had the option of standing on the sidelines during the national anthem or remaining off the field – whether or not to appear on the field for the anthem was mainly left up to teams’ discretion.
On September 14, 2016, ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith referenced Tom E. Curran's Comcast Sportsnet New England report, adding a “paid patriotism” element to the mix:
“The players were moved to the field during the national anthem because it was seen as a marketing strategy to make the athletes look more patriotic. The United States Department of Defense paid the National Football League $5.4 million between 2011 and 2014, and the National Guard [paid] $6.7 million between 2013 and 2015 to stage on-field patriotic ceremonies as part of military recruitment budget-line items.”Among the paid events were on-field color guard presentations during the national anthem, enlistment and reenlistment ceremonies, the unfurling of a giant flag by members of the military, and ceremonial first pitches.
While many teams held such tributes for the military free of charge, 50 pro teams received money for them, according to the report.
On April 30, 2015, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) released a statement chiding the New Jersey Army National Guard for paying between $97,000 and $115,000 to the New York Jets for a series of promotions involving military personnel. That November, Flake and fellow Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain issued a report stating that the Defense Department had been paying for patriotic displays in football and other sports between 2011 and 2014.
And, indeed, Commissioner Roger Goodell said an audit uncovered that over the course of four seasons $723,734 "may have been mistakenly applied to appreciation activities rather than recruitment efforts." So, the NFL reimbursed U.S. taxpayers this amount in so-called "paid patriotism" money that the teams took from the military to allow things like color guard displays and video tributes at pro football games. It was decided that the activity was a marketing strategy to make the athletes look more patriotic … and a very questionable practice.
The NFL Rulebook makes no mention of the national anthem. But the Game Operations Manual, which governs the conduct of home clubs to ensure they protect players and provide the conditions for a fair and fan-friendly contest, does. It states …
“The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem.
“During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition. It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”The proffered wording states that players must “be” on the sideline for the national anthem, not that they must “stand” on the sideline (the latter is listed as something players “should” do). It also states that players “may” (not “shall”) be penalized for not observing the regulation.
Depending upon how you view the use of players – either as pawns of patriotism or free and independent entities – requiring their presence on the field during the National Anthem has little to do with the sports contest. Requiring them to stand, not kneel, is even more judgmental of their intentions and an intrusion into their hearts and minds.
How can I say this with confidence? Look at the lyrics of the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Below are the lyrics from the rarely sung third stanza of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,“The Star-Spangled Banner” was written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812 – recognized as a war of aggression that began with an attempt by the U.S. to grab Canada from the British Empire.
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Then, the country had overestimated the strength of the U.S. military. And, by the time of the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814, the British had counterattacked and overrun Washington, D.C., setting fire to the White House.
And one of the key tactics behind the British military’s success was its active recruitment of American slaves. As as an article (2014) in Harper’s explains, the orders given to the Royal Navy’s Admiral Sir George Cockburn read:
“Let the landings you make be more for the protection of the desertion of the Black Population than with a view to any other advantage. … The great point to be attained is the cordial Support of the Black population. With them properly armed & backed with 20,000 British Troops, Mr. Madison will be hurled from his throne.”Whole slave families found their way to the ships of the British, who accepted everyone and pledged no one would be given back to their “owners.” Adult men were trained to create a regiment called the Corps of Colonial Marines, one of two units of black slaves recruited between 1808 and 1816 who participated in many of the most important battles, including the August 1814 raid on Washington.
Then, on the night of September 13, 1814, the British bombarded Fort McHenry. Key, seeing the fort’s flag the next morning, was inspired to write the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
So, when Key wrote “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” he was taking great satisfaction in the death of slaves who’d freed themselves. His perspective may have been affected by the fact he owned several slaves himself.
With that in mind, think again about the next two lines: “And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
It may be very hard to swallow; however, the reality was that slaves – American human beings denied their birthrights of freedom – were really courageous fighters on the side of the British during the War of 1812 – brave soldiers who sought human rights. “The Star-Spangled Banner” – in this stanza – glorifies America’s “triumph” over them.
After the U.S. and the British signed a peace treaty at the end of 1814, the U.S. government demanded the return of American “property,” which by that point numbered about 6,000 people. The British refused. Most of the 6,000 eventually settled in Canada, with some going to Trinidad, where their descendants are still known as “Merikins.”
While those offensive words have been omitted from the National Anthem (at least in popular settings), this is how we still salute our troops – by playing the “Star Spangled Banner.” Is it wrong to question both the anthem and the state of racial affairs in 2017 America?
NFL football player Colin Kaepernick questioned this and his response was to not rise for the national anthem. Surely, it is his civic right to choose this nonviolent form of protest, especially given the advent of paid patriotism, the contradictory rules imposed by the NFL, and the history of the National Anthem.
Who is the better patriot – the player who stands or the player who kneels? I say neither is the worse. Let us never forget that those we honor with the powerful symbols of our flag and our anthem fought and died for ideals that have yet to be realized. Some of us understand that “incomplete” condition much better than others.
People might say just forget the bad things of the past and accept them without question. Yet, how does this view validate the sacred American promises of equality and justice? How does this improve the glaring inequities and hypocrisies of the present? I believe a person can support his country by protest and by encouraging positive change … even if he does it from his knees.
Robin Blackburn. The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848. 1988.
Alan Taylor. American Blacks in the War of 1812. From The Routledge Handbook of the War of 1812. 2016.