A member of the San Francisco Forty-Niners NFL football club, Colin Kaepernick, has released a firestorm of criticism and discussion by refusing to stand for the singing of the national anthem when it is sung before each and every football game (and baseball game and basketball game and …). He did this without announcement all through this year’s pre-season competitions and was noticed only toward the end of that series of games. When asked why he was doing such a thing, he replied that he couldn’t respect a country that allowed such unequal treatment of its black and brown citizens.
Of course, the conversation got blown all out of proportion, rarely getting back to the point Mr. Kaepernick was trying to make. Some thought he was disrespecting the fans, others thought he was disrespecting the team owners, his teammates, even members of the armed forces. Of course, Mr. Kaepernick’s statement that he was disrespecting the country’s acceptance of rampant inequality as a whole went mostly uncommented on.
I would like to take a step back (you knew that was coming) and ask: why are we playing the national anthem at the start of every damned sporting event in the country?”
These are not political events. They are not sponsored by political parties or the government or any agency that is making political contributions, suggesting policy, or playing a political role at all. So, why do we begin purely social events with the playing of the national anthem?
“Why are we playing the national anthem
at the start of every damned sporting event in the country?
And why is standing up required? Why is taking off one’s hat required? Why is holding one’s hand over one’s heart required? I am sure that someone will claim that we should take every opportunity to give thanks for our country, but I find that puzzling because we are the country, so we are thanking ourselves? We are not giving thanks for our veterans or the sacrifices made by previous generations, we have other occasions at which we thank them.
And why is conforming to the demands of society during the playing of the national anthem count as an act or statement of patriotism? Surely this is mere symbolism and far from a real act of patriotism.
There is also the danger that if you repeat a ritual too often and make it mundane, it loses its power, such as asking our school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every fracking school day (I remember pledging allegiance to the United States of Asparagus and other slight lyrical modifications.) A comedian, Robert Klein I believe, had a bit in which he auditioned replacement lyrics (“While we are standing here waiting for the ball game to start, … (I had lovely musical notes inserted here but the ferdlinger WP site won’t accept them)” was one of my favorites.)
So, what is so damned important about a song played at sporting events for quite nebulous reasons. (The actual reason, I am sure, is that once the playing became commonplace, no team owner wanted to break with the practice.)