As I’m writing this article, the NFL has just commenced its 2017-2018 season, and former San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still blackballed from playing because he committed the horrendous act of standing up for racial justice by kneeling during the national anthem. Since then, his protest has spread, some players continue to kneel during the anthem, many fans continue to lambaste Kaepernick, and the national anthem continues to be played at sporting events.
As we can see, choosing not to participate in the national anthem at the beginning of a sporting event can have serious consequences. Despite the fact that choosing to sit, kneel, or leave during the national anthem is a constitutionally protected activity, we can see that those who choose not to participate are subject to ostracization. Kaepernick in particular has been a target for many people who buy into the US’s civic religion wholesale.
But a question that Kaepernick’s act of protest should elicit is: Why is the national anthem played at domestic sporting events at all? This issue appeared in my mind while I went to support my high school girls basketball team in their effort to become citywide champions. As I was settled in my chair before the game began, I heard the announcer’s request to rise for the national anthem. At that moment, I began to recognize the absurdity of the situation that was unfolding before me. Why should supporting your school’s basketball team lead to being pressured into a display of patriotism? What do sports and state have to do with each other?
Militarism and chauvinism, regrettably, have had a place in US sports, especially in the NFL, for decades. Some extreme examples of this relationship are the military jet flyovers that occur alongside the national anthem at professional and collegiate football games. These flyovers are usually accompanied by the cheers of enthusiastic fans, at best not realizing that these are often the same types of aircrafts that have taken part in the disastrous wars in the Middle East.
So, let’s think of why this relationship exists. Some will say that it’s fundamentally the nature of competitive sports to mimic warfare, and that this similarity is the starting point for the introduction of militarism into US sports. While there is an element of truth in that opinion, it is more useful to think of sports as a platform. Sport touches the lives of many Americans, whether that’s playing on a little league team or watching the Patriots on television. Because of this, sports are used currently to pressure people into supporting the actions of the United States military, displaying patriotism, and singing the praises of the nation. The national anthem is only the tip of the iceberg here.
Let’s think to ourselves: Why do we go to sporting events? Why do we enjoy sports? When I go to a sporting event, I am there to celebrate the dedication, the perseverance, and the accomplishments of the athletes who have worked so hard to be able to compete against another team who has worked equally hard to appear on the field. I doubt anyone goes to a sporting event with the intention of being there just so they have the opportunity to sing the national anthem. It’s time to stop signing the national anthem at domestic sporting events. It’s time to separate sport and state because state can sometimes poison sport.