Some fans are burning jerseys to protest San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit and not stand for the National Anthem to protest inequitable treatment of blacks in America. He wants to call attention to racial injustice and police brutality. He wants to add to the national debate. So here we are.
Maybe it makes you uncomfortable or angry. Certainly I find offensive his wearing socks with pigs in police uniforms. But the beauty of this nation is that virtually all expression is protected by the First Amendment, and Kaepernick doesn’t lose the right to express himself through protest just because he’s an NFL football player.
Muhammad Ali exercised his First Amendment religious rights to protest U.S. policy in the Vietnam War by refusing induction in the name of his Islamic faith. He was vilified by many in the public, exiled from boxing and sentenced to jail, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his conviction. And, when he died, he was extolled for both his athletic prowess and his courage in standing up for principle. Let’s hope that when Kaepernick is canned for his shortcomings on the gridiron, he doesn’t attribute the team’s decision to race and his political protest rather than his failing to perform.
As for the National Anthem, let’s remember a few things. First, writer Francis Scott Key was a slave owner and opposed to the abolitionist movement. (Just read the words of the seldom sung third stanza.) Second, Key borrowed the music from an 18th century pub song about drinking and sex called Anacreon in Heaven.
Woodrow Wilson introduced The Star Spangled Banner into sporting events in 1918, and its use in baseball started at the 1918 Cubs/Red Sox World Series game during the seventh inning stretch. Still, playing it at sporting events was a rare occasion. It has only been our National Anthem since Herbert Hoover declared it so in 1931. The regular tradition of singing it before games didn’t start until the Second World War. The music hasn’t gotten any easier to sing in the intervening decades.
I’d far prefer America the Beautiful by Wellesley College professor Katherine Lee Bates, published around the turn of the last century. But, even if people have a sentimental attachment to The Star Spangled Banner, the decision of any athlete (or any fan, for that matter) not to sing it should hardly be seen as a test of that person’s patriotism. We live in a great country, but it’s a country that has many more important issues to worry about.
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