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Photo via US Air Force

Why We Should Stop Having the National Anthem at Professional Sporting Events

Is the anthem at games an outdated and unnecessary practice?

As professional sports start to finally get underway in 2020, more athletes are kneeling and doing other forms of silent protest before and during the national anthem. Given the current political climate in the United States, this has predictably continued to be an explosively polarizing topic for fans. However, regardless how you stand on the subject, the simple fact of the matter is that there’s no reason the song should be played before games in the first place.

To start off, I fully support those who choose to kneel, skip or otherwise do some form of protest when it comes to the national anthem. This is the home of the free and the brave. That’s not to mention that being able to protest is a Constitutional right. Literally. The fact that it makes other people uncomfortable is only proof positive that such actions are having their intended outcome of bringing attention to the primary issues at hand — ending racism and police violence.

Protesting during the anthem or kneeling before the flag is literally a right afforded to all of us by virtue of being a citizen of the United States. Others have the right to not like it, but they don’t have the right to stop it.

While I would not want to strip athletes of the platform in which to protest, there’s no reason to play the anthem before professional sporting events and ending the practice should be a serious consideration.

The Star Spangled Banner was first played at baseball games during the 1918 World Series, which was at the height of World War I. It was done as a show of patriotism, as fans and players alike served in the international conflict that was the first to be fought on a global level. The song was performed intermittently over the years at other games and venues; becoming the official national anthem of the United States in 1931.

The NFL commissioner mandated that the song be played before every game by the conclusion of World War II; a tradition that rapidly spread to other sports. Thus, contrary to the belief of many, it’s performance before every professional game is a relatively recent occurrence and influenced by war times.

Patriotism is all well and good but is something that should be more personal. Forced patriotism is called nationalism and loses much of its meaning when compelled. You simply can’t force somebody to be or act patriotic unless they truly feel it. Patriotism should come from a place of personal pride, not because it is being mandated, which is known as tyranny.

Like it or not, the anthem is also problematic from the standpoint of containing racist lyrics and also being written by a slave owner. It’s hard (or at least should be) to hold sacred a song about freedom when it literally glorifies slavery and was composed by someone who held human beings in bondage.

The playing of the anthem at sporting events is little more than trying to whip up a patriotic frenzy with a crowd that is not usually found elsewhere. They don’t play the anthem when you go to the office each morning or go grocery shopping. There’s no anthem before a movie in a theater or a show on Broadway. What makes sports so special? It’s a convenient method of marketing good old American patriotism to large crowds already steeped in the mentality of competition.

There’s nothing wrong with being patriotic. Simultaneously, there’s nothing wrong believing we can do better as a country and protest to that effect. What is wrong is playing the anthem before games because of tradition or a desire to enforce patriotic compliance. For those who say a ball game is no place for protesting; why is it a place for patriotism?

Change can be difficult, but it can also be good. In particular, 2020 appears to be the year of doing things differently — or at least striving for change. Let’s get the anthem out of sports and let people find patriotism, if they want, on their own.

Written by

Dabbler in history & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about diversity, culture, sports and education.

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