Reader’s Rant: Sports versus Political Protest – Solutions to the National Anthem Controversy

by on September 19, 2017 · 12 comments

in Civil Rights

By Beau Grosscup

As we enter the early weeks of the 2017 football season, the issue of political protest at sporting events is dominating media venues.

A long debated issue (e.g. former NBA star MahmoudAbdu-Raul-Rauf refused to stand for the National Anthem in 1996) San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick rekindled the debate by kneeling during National Anthem in the 2016 NFL season (since joined by others at every level of football/sporting events).

The NFL owners alleged conspiracy to keep Kaepernick from NFL employment, followed by pro-Keapernick protests at NFL headquarters in New York City, have so inflamed emotions that the question of whether political protest will ruin the NFL (and other public sporting venues) is now under serious debate. Yet, the solution to this issue is obvious and socially constructive: stop playing the National Anthem at public sporting events.

This solution has been taken in other venues. I am young enough to remember standing for the National Anthem before every movie. That ended in the 1960s, and the country didn’t fall apart.

Image: thinkprogress

More importantly, one of the most frequent arguments against Kaepernick etc. is that they are using a public sporting event to share (impose) their political position (in this case the unjust treatment of African-Americans in US society) on the rest of the attending/viewing audience.

This is true.

Sports have always attracted political protest. American track medalists Tommie Smith (centre) and John Carlos raising black-gloved fists at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico Center. Image: Encyclopedia Britannica

But it is also true that in insisting the National Anthem (a tribute to nationalism) be played before each game, the NFL owners (and every other sports owner/amateur administrative unit) are doing the same; i.e. using public sporting events to offer/enforce their political belief that nationalism is a positive concept, to be celebrated, honored and respected.

Yet, a strong (stronger?) case can be made that nationalism, as related to the human endeavor, is a negative concept. WWI and WWII scholars are nearly unanimous that nationalist-based passions, resentments and disputes were a major cause of WWI and WWII. In addition, while pushing the positive power of nationalism (unifying citizens within an artificially created territory (nation-state), the sports establishment ignores nationalism’s negative dynamic that artificially divides the human race into a system of nation-states and sets them against each other.

In insisting on playing the National Anthem, they are pushing a political view that the merits of nationalism are not open to question, or that the positive merits outweigh the negative, and that the words in the Star Spangle Banner reflect American social-political reality. Clearly, they are taking a political stand that includes the implicit threat of either publicly and properly celebrate nationalism (the American kind) or open your self up to criticism/punishment of some manner or form.

A fundamental principle of our liberal democracy is that all ideas are equal in terms of opportunity to be presented/heard. By enforcing their political position on nationalism (usually in publicly funded stadiums) as they object to dissent, the sports establishment is violating that founding principle.

Fortunately there are two constructive solutions that will bring the sports establishment (and their supporters) back in line with our cherished doctrine of political equality.

1. Continue to play the National Anthem, but insist sports authorities  ‘stand up for the ‘American Way’ by strongly asserting citizens’ right to dissenting opinion and behavior at their sporting events.

2. Given the sports establishment’s obvious jingoistic attachment to nationalism, it might be more constructive (and easier) to ‘de-nationalize’ (and hopefully de-militarize) public sporting events. Stop playing the song! Wave the flag (a cloth symbol of nationalism) and sing the song at home.

Finally, for those claiming Kaepernick etc. are disrespecting the military, the Star Spangled Banner is the National Anthem, not the Military Anthem, The Armed Services have their own tunes to which all military enthusiasts will want to learn the words.

Beau Grosscup is Professor Emeritus, California State University, Chico



{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page September 19, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Absolutely excellent piece with the perfect solution. Playing the national anthem and saying the pledge of allegiance should have no place in public venues like sports, city council meetings, legislative sessions, etc. any more than does saying a prayer. These are all individual choices and no one should be forced to participate if they choose not to.


kh September 20, 2017 at 11:59 am

Well I’m a terrible patriot… but back the truck up a second…

Did the NFL ever reprimand or fine Kaepernick for his silent protest? If no, then their pushing patriotism doesn’t make them hypocrites.

And if they are hypocrites, well, it’s their league, and their right to set the decorum as they see fit. If he gets hired, maybe we can move on and protest their objectifying of women.

I agree that we can do without the national anthem and military flyovers at sporting events. It’s propoganda and perverted patriotism. The olympics of course is a different matter.


Geoff Page September 20, 2017 at 12:35 pm

Just wondering, who said anything about the NFL being hypocrites?


RB September 19, 2017 at 2:30 pm

“A fundamental principle of our liberal democracy is that all ideas are equal in terms of opportunity to be presented/heard.”

This sounds reasonable and you should direct this principle to those left of center on our Berkeley Campus. As an individual, Kaepernick can protest at every NFL game from the stands. As an employee he represent the employer and his actions are not just reflecting on himself. His actions have already had a negative impact on his employer as measured by TV viewership. I suggest he should play football in Canada and without our National Anthem.


Geoff Page September 19, 2017 at 3:31 pm

RB, This is exactly what the people at Berkeley were also doing, expressing ideas. There are always isolated incidents one can cite as you have but that does not negate the reality of which side is usually the most tolerant in these differences of opinion. As for Kaepernick, he has a right to express his opinion as he did and that it had the possibility, since recognized, of causing harm to his livlihood gives it much more weight than most. Just because you work for someone that doesn’t mean you have to toe their line, safer maybe but not necessary. And it is a huge stretch to attribute the decline in NFL viewership to his action, there are other reasons for that unless you can cite a study that says he caused that.

But why not say what you really mean, that you consider the man to be unpatriotic? This article offered a reasonable suggestion to avoid the problem but you didn’t coment on that.


Dr. Jack Hammer September 19, 2017 at 6:36 pm

Great perspective and thanks for creating dialogue. The NFL goes beyond delivering that nationalism and provides a medium for pro military propaganda and recruiting tools. The USGov pays hundreds of millions of dollars to promote their message through numerous sports leagues, primarily NFL.


Frank Gormlie September 20, 2017 at 11:19 am

On a more philosophical level, nationalism plays an important role in countries oppressed by colonialism or ne0-colonialism. National liberation movements were significant in unleashing countries in Africa, Asia and Central and South Americas.


John O. September 22, 2017 at 4:01 pm

The sad thing about all of this… is that people seem to care to talk more about whether or not he should protest, his career, the National Anthem, etc… INSTEAD of talking about the fact that African Americans are being shot by police with little or no consequence and at a higher rate than other races.
One can argue the reasons for this (racism, socio-economic, weapons, etc.) , but it is clear that THERE IS A PROBLEM that NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED.
Sadly, the NFL missed the opportunity to step up to the plate. You would think that when many of your employees are African American that you would take an interested in their well being and beliefs. Yet, the customer base (fans) are a reflection of the USA, and we know what racist tendencies our country has right now. So rather than hurt the business, the NFL and players have done nothing to speak of to support Kaep.
I think that he is a hero for taking a stand. The way the NFL has handled Kaep, CTE, race, legal issues related to crime, drugs, rape, etc. shows that NFL looks out for itself first and only does the right thing when convenient.


Frank Gormlie September 24, 2017 at 11:32 am

See this: In a sign of solidarity, the Pittsburgh Steelers stayed in the locker room during the national anthem before their 1 p.m. ET kickoff with the Chicago Bears.


Frank Gormlie September 24, 2017 at 11:34 am

And this: The Baltimore Ravens’ Terrell Suggs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans lent their star power to the national anthem protests as NFL players and coaches kneeled, raised fists or locked arms in unity before their Sunday games.
Ahead of the morning game in London and 1 p.m. ET games, players from several teams, including the Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, the Denver Broncos and the Miami Dolphins, took knees during the anthem.


nostalgic September 25, 2017 at 8:06 am

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


John O. September 25, 2017 at 4:27 pm

Wow. The NFL did the right thing… I was shocked to hear about this… but I wonder if it was their choice or the players took it upon themselves.


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