The Hypocrisy of an American Tradition
White people sure get fired up about their national anthem. Pardon me, I meant OUR national anthem. Because the “Star Spangled Banner,” despite its questionable origins, is supposed to represent the rights of all Americans.
The idea that all Americans should stand for the anthem - although many of us don’t enjoy all the rights and freedoms the song represents is a maddening hypocrisy, spewed out of a sense of blind patriotism and allegiance to a tradition. What’s disheartening, while not surprising, is that the scores of “true patriots” loudly supporting this tradition are almost exclusively rich white men.
During a September 21 rally in Alabama, Donald Trump demanded that the “sons of bitches” in the NFL who have the nerve to peacefully protest in the name of racial inequality be fired by their teams’ respective owners. The league office - in conjunction with the NFL Player’s Union - issued an immediate rebuke of the President’s statement. A few team owners, some of whom donated large sums of money to Trump’s campaign, joined their players and coaches in pre-game shows of solidarity throughout Week 3 of the NFL season.
Even Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones - who has been the NFL’s most vocal opponent of anthem protests - joined his team in kneeling and locking arms prior to Dallas’ September 25 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (though it’s important to note that this display occurred prior to the singing of the anthem, and the gesture was loudly booed by the crowd during a nationally televised game). But Jones showed his true colors this past Sunday by making it clear that any Cowboys player that 'disrespects' the flag will not play for his franchise." I included the hyperlink to that ESPN.com story so you can just copy and paste this in.
The shows of solidarity have continued throughout the NFL, and many players have continued to kneel or protest during the anthem in other ways. But it’s telling that this league-wide show of unity came only after the President of the United States publicly attacked the league. Where was this show of support last year when Kaepernick – who remains unsigned as of this writing – was taking a stand against the unjust treatment of black people by police?
It’s disturbing enough that our President is the single most divisive voice in this country, but his misguided idea of patriotism continues to be repeated by other privileged white men with huge platforms. Vice President Mike Pence - while visiting his home state of Indiana - walked out of yesterday's Colts vs 49ers game after many 49ers players knelt during the anthem.
NASCAR owner Richard Childress declared he would fire anyone on his payroll who decided to join the protests, and legendary NASCAR driver Richard Petty insisted those who refused to stand for the anthem should find another country to live in. NASCAR is almost exclusively made up of, and supported by, white, male Southerners so it’s not surprising that Childress and Petty would loudly and publicly spew this type of rhetoric. What’s problematic though, is that people in positions of power and influence continue to ignore the significance of racial inequality simply because they are insulated from its impact. Their words encourage millions of others like them to think the same way.
What type of patriotism encourages millions of Americans to ignore the struggles faced by their fellow citizens? If that’s what standing for the national anthem represents to you, then perhaps you should be the one looking for another place to live.
The October 2 issue of Sports Illustrated features a cover image including several prominent athletes (as well as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, though interestingly, no Kaepernick) standing in unity behind the words “A Nation Divided Sports United.” The issue includes a series of articles and opinion pieces highlighting sports’ complicated history with the national anthem and political protests.
In Charles P. Pierce’s article, Protest Song, he points out two more hypocrisies which have been completely overlooked by the anti-protest and just-shut-up-and-play crowds. Pierce first notes that “The inclusion of a national anthem – any national anthem – in a sporting event necessarily politicizes that event…” You can’t be in favor of playing the anthem before an event and then get offended when an athlete chooses that platform to make a political statement. The political statement was already made.
Pierce also points out that “All effective protest is inconvenient and, in its own way, uncivil,” pointing to the Boston Tea Party as perhaps America’s strongest example of this. There wouldn’t be a free and independent America without protest, so don’t get offended when a certain segment of the population demands that it get the same treatment that many Americans have enjoyed for almost 250 years.
The singing of the national anthem before sporting events is a perfectly fine, if not altogether logical, tradition. But if you insist on standing for it and, and demand that others do the same, I suggest you strongly consider what it is you're standing for, and more importantly, what those that have served in the military risked their lives for. Black people fought and died - and continue to fight and die – for that freedom too, and we demand that we be treated with the same level of respect that is asked of the national anthem.