Once More, Sense About the National Anthem

I said it here two years ago, when the incumbent president demanded the immediate firing of athletes protesting, period, during playings of the National Anthem. I said it last year, too, when the New York Yankees stirred a small kerfuffle over being done with Kate Smith's recording of "God Bless America," Smith having been discovered to have recorded an old song now deemed racist yet turning out to mock racism, but never mind.

Now, the senseless murder of George Floyd at the hands of rogue police has inspired the prospective return of protest kneeling against rogue police and their particular animus toward black people, which inspired San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to take his knee in the first place. What a difference three years and a grotesque crime captured for all time on video makes.

Barely 35 percent of those polled by Yahoo! News in 2018 accepted Kaepernick's right to such a protest. Today, in the wake of Floyd's murder and the explosion of rioting it inspired, not all of which had as much to do with rogue police versus black people as with excuses to break entire neighbourhoods, Yahoo! News says 52 percent said yes, let the Kaepernicks protest thus if they choose when professional sports returns.

Those who continue to object to such protests often miss the point that the National Anthem can be taken as something more than the flag alone, compared to calling for the Pledge of Allegiance which is almost entirely about the flag. (They also miss or at least underestimate the point that there are too many African-Americans made to suffer unconscionably and unlawfully at the hands of rogue police.)

But I'm also on record as saying before what I bring forth again: why not cut the playings of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at sports events back to far more reasonable levels? Stop snarling, please, and hear me out.

Playing the anthem before every damn last game or race or match is more than a little on the overkill side. It negates the patriotic impulse, or at least reduces it to rote ritual, undermining the precept that genuine patriotism does and should spring from the heart. Compulsion is incompatible. It's worth discussing whether or not racism in America is systemic, but it's also worth comprehending that those who suffer or die at the hands of rogue police behaving above and beyond their defined bounds should not be expected to stand for it. If it's a crime to protest such behavior by way of a knee during a national anthem, what is it when those whose mission is to battle crime become criminals themselves?

When I first wrote about the kneeling issue after President Tweety called for throwing football kneelers off their teams, I cited a few writings that spring back to mind now, from sources not heretofore renowned for standing athwart patriotism. "Trump and his army wrapped themselves in the flag when doing battle with the NFL ... 'America First,' they cry," wrote National Review's Jay Nordlinger. "Rah rah. But when it comes to upholding American values in the world — our flag is drooping. People who wet themselves at the sight of football players kneeling are completely blasé when it comes to these congratulations offered to dictators who steal elections."

"Saying that simply kneeling for the national anthem is so offensive that it must be confined to the locker room or banned outright reflects the same hypersensitivity that plagues the social justice left," argued Reason's Robby Soave, persuasively enough. "By choosing to make standing for the anthem a matter of coercion rather than a voluntary act of patriotism," came John Hirschauer of The Daily Wire, "it (quite wrongly) suggests that [sports] executives and the kneeling movement's many malcontents in the country are unable to provide a coherent reason why America is worth honoring in spite of its flaws."

(Perspective: Customarily, otherwise, kneeling is thought to be a gesture of submissive respect, in prayer or otherwise, and can be taken as a prayer for evolution, not revolution. Those who object to the anthem kneelers might ask whether they'd prefer Kaepernick, his fellow African-American athletes, and their supporters and sympathizers among other races and ethnicities, don black gloves and raise them overhead in clenched fists.)

To think that all this bristles around something that began quite spontaneously, with America still in the throe of World War I, when a Navy band at the 1918 World Series (military bands in the stands were common in that time and place) broke into "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the seventh-inning stretch, and a Boston Red Sox third baseman named Fred Thomas — himself a Navy man furloughed to play in the Series — turned toward the American flag and gave a military salute, quite spontaneously. Prompting other players on both teams (the Red Sox played and beat the Chicago Cubs in the Series) and fans in the stands to do likewise.

Remember: "The Star-Spangled Banner" didn't become our national anthem until the 1930s. No professional sports league made standing for it mandatory before games until the NFL instituted such a rule after World War II. Major League Baseball to this day has no formal rule one way or the other about it.

Now, allow me to reiterate what I first argued two years ago — keep "The Star-Spangled Banner" only for particular days' sporting events:

* Opening Days for team sports and the Masters Tournament.

* The Indianapolis and Daytona 500s.

* The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes — the three events in thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown series.

* Games, races, matches played on significant national holidays such as (in order of their pending arrivals as I write) the Fourth of July, Labour Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, New Year's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, Presidents' Day, Memorial Day.

* The All-Star Games of each team sports league.

* Game 1 of the World Series, the Super Bowl, Game 1 of the NBA finals, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals (assuming the set begins in an American arena), and the MLS (Major League Soccer) Cup Game.

And, eba-dee, eba-dee, eba-dee, eba-that's all, folks.

I didn't write lightly two years ago, and I don't write lightly now. I'm a veteran of the United States Air Force myself. I'm also the (paternal) grandson (of a New York police officer. (He retired the year I was born.) Grandpa Walter would have been just as appalled if not more so at today's rogue police, such as those who murdered or abetted the murder of George Floyd, as he was about the Harry Gross scandal of the 1950s (Gross was a Brooklyn bookmaker who turned out to have almost as many cops on his payroll as New York City did) and the police graft scandal of the early 1970s. (When several years of fruitless attempts to attack it from within the department finally prompted two clean New York detectives, Frank Serpico and David Durk, to take it to The New York Times, prompting the immediate formation of a commission to investigate the depth of such corruption. And, in turn, helping to torpedo then-Mayor John V. Lindsay's political ambitions beyond the place he called Fun City.)

What I wrote concluding the second of the two 2018 essays I wrote about the kneeling protests still holds for me: "Restoring real meaning at the same time you honor the sound precept that real patriotism is not induced at gunpoint, metaphoric or otherwise ... would be wisdom for a country founded by uncommonly wise men, one of whom ended the nation's first presidency in part with a warning against 'the postures of pretended patriotism.' Wisely."

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