Do We Need the National Anthem at Sporting Events?

 

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Colin Kaepernick is a brave man. He’s taking on the third rail of sports:  standing for the National Anthem. The sporting world can be both provocatively progressive and angrily conservative. When it comes to topics like America, its a lot more Trump than Obama. Don’t let all the nostalgic remembrances of Ali fool you. The sporting world is typically unforgiving when it comes to challenging the status quo on the subject of patriotism. When Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the Anthem two decades ago, his NBA career never recovered. Like Abdul-Rauf, Kaepernick is doing it for commendable, thoughtful reasons. Like Abdul-Rauf, he’s hearing the haters really loud right now.

But things have changed. Especially in sports, and especially among African American athletes in this moment of #blacklivesmatter. Kaepernick is following an increasing number of vocal black athletes speaking up against the horribly oppressive reality of current day racial inequality. I don’t think Kaepernick’s sports community is going to be as quiet as they were when Abdul-Rauf was left alone in protest. Already, we are hearing a debate about the Anthem, its historic links to slavery and black colonization, its current links to a national community that is currently reeling from the most racially charged presidential election in modern times. Current polls are showing only one percent of African American voters are supporting Donald Trump! Current polls are also showing that a majority of white voters are supporting the racist hate monger! (Let that sink in: a majority of whites in America support Trump.)

Kaepernick has been thoughtful in his defense, and he has a social movement mobilized to defend his acts, both inside and outside the sports world. It’s great that the sports world is becoming engaged. (Speaking of the opposite, I’m watching Kim Kardashian vacuously introduce Brittney Spears on the MTV music awards as I type). This isn’t going to go away so quietly as it has in the past.

Regardless of what I think about Kaepernick’s political statement, can we get rid of the national anthem before most sporting events? I’m willing to allow it for certain big games, like the Super Bowl, which have become patriotic ‘American’ events. But why do I need to hear it before an exhibition football game, or the 103rd game of the MLB season? We don’t hear it before movies, before class, before work, before primetime television. TV (except for FOX) cuts away to commercial while it’s being sung. An increasingly large portion of athletes are not Americans. And very few people are listening thoughtfully to the anthem while standing in the beer line. It’s also followed by–at least in the NBA–with very loud music and someone yelling “MAKE SOME NOISE!!!”

Let’s reserve our anthem for moments that are supposed to be thoughtfully patriotic. Play it on July 4th and at the Super Bowl. But let’s stop pretending it’s a bigger deal than it is. We don’t need to take time to reflect on our national service three minutes before watching a game.

The USA is Going to Embarrass Argentina

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All this concern about the US Men’s Olympic Basketball team not winning by enough points and what it all means? The answer isn’t very complicated. They aren’t playing very hard, and they aren’t playing defense. They have been playing these games like they are NBA All-Star games, except the pace is a lot slower. They are going to play defense against Argentina. They are going to beat Argentina by a lot.

Having settled that, what does it mean for the upcoming Golden State Warriors season if the US team somehow loses? Loses with Kevin Durant. And Klay ‘the streakiest shooter in the NBA’ Thompson? And Dray “balls” Green? Full scale panic. It means the Warriors are cursed and it’s all Draymond’s fault. (Was anyone else watching the game against Australia thinking, “the Warriors are going to miss Bogut’s passing.”)

But the USA is not going to lose. You don’t even need to watch.

Also, Klay Thompson is not the best 2 guard in the NBA. He’s the best player in the NBA about 3 games a year, a D-Leaguer about 10 games a year, and he’s a good but not elite player the rest of the time. He’s got to gain some consistency.

And Boogie Cousins is doing a good job lowering his price tag for the Celtics to grab him.

A pile of dust and a beret

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Everyone loves Dream Team as they should. Basketball gods came down from Mt. Olympus to make sure everyone remembered who they were and what righteous fire looked like. I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about the time Vince Carter jumped over some poor frenchman’s head and dunked. This actually happened in an Olympic basketball.

It was not planned. It wasn’t in a pool over someone’s cousin. Elite Olympic athlete Pierre Picard Van Damme was playing defense. (I Googled him but all I found was an image of a pile of dust with a beret) but Vince thought “should I go left? Right? Nah, I’m going to jump over his head.” Then he did it. We live in a world where guys can’t land dunks they spend weeks practicing. Vince did this on the fly, in a game. This was the style of play with which they won a gold medal.

Clearly Paul and I love KG. In the same game as Vince’s dunk KG posterized another Frenchman. Once KG landed, he bear hugged his victim lifting him up and skipping down the court screaming “that’s my n-word”. I think everyone was high on Vince’s dunk. I certainly was.

The Dream Team belonged to the world. Dream Team 2000? They were American. Brash, arrogant, gleeful, glorious Jerks. Our jerks!

I thought Shaq was on the 2000 squad. And Iverson. Nope. My memory blurred the post dream team men’s Olympic squads. I don’t want to Google the game. Maybe KG didn’t do that to Jean Luc Grey Poupon. I don’t want to ruin my memory with facts. That’s why I blog.

Team USA has its game down at this point. There are glimmers of true American hoop exceptionalism (see DeRozan’s near 360) but as Coach K scolds bench celebrations I think he’s missing something. He’s a great coach. With a full size USA flag pole up his butt. We as fans miss something. There’s a fine balance between Olympic sportsmanship and beautiful American arrogance. I’m curious to see what the post coach k era will bring.

Every 12 years we should send all of our best. A handshake agreement amongst the coming generation’s banana boat illuminati. Not every year. Too much wear and tear. However the the world should be regularly be reminded: basketball Mt. Olympus resides in the United States.

The world is a shit show so I’m re-watching Cheers.

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Sam “May Day” Malone was a(fictional) relief pitcher for the (real) Red Sox until his alcoholism derailed his promising  career. He then became a sober bartender in his (fictional) bar Cheers in (real) Boston. I grew up associating the opening theme of Cheers as the music for bed time. Growing up in the Boston area, I associated any stolen minute of prime time Cheers as a glimpse into the lives of adults.

With the world turning into a shitshow that resembles the satiric bleak news sprinkled throughout RoboCop, I was in the hunt for entertainment from simpler times. Netflix has the entire run of Cheers. Sold. Spoiler alert: Cheers holds up.

First and foremost, it is not in any way realistic depiction of life. It has the pitterpatter cadence of a stage musical. It’s characters are pristinely developed even in the pilot. No one is as clearly defined as a character ambling through Cheers. Even in the pilot, characters have clear motivations that advance the crystal clear plot. Sam a fallen hero who finds worth in seducing women. Diane is an ivory tower ice queen. Coach an eager to please lab. Norm a lovable lab of a drunk. Carla the tough as nails single mother. The cameras fall out of focus. The lighting is off.The writing? Funny and perfect from the word go.

The pilot introduces the Sam and Diane sexual tension that would carry the first few seasons. The bar is saturated with Boston sports. Posters of Bird and Yaz are on the wall. They talk about the Pre Brady, Pre Parcells Pre Rod Rust Patriots. Bobby Orr has a place of honor behind the bar. Later episodes would feature appearances by local sports legends like Kevin McHale further blurring kayfabe for young me.

 As an adult, Cheers is not realistic, it’s theatrical, so very fictional. Which is why I can escape watching it. However, it’s very real in the sense that it is very human. It has real pathos among the laughs. It’s a nice respite from the grim reality of our very real election featuring a seemingly fictional candidate.

Every episode ends with an image of the bar as a monolith devoid of humanity. A sad instrumental version of the theme plays. At the end of every evening, as in real life, the bar is empty.

Sportsmanship

One of my favorite moments at the end of a playoff series is when the players of each team come together and embrace and pay their respects. I really like sportsmanship. I really like the broader camaraderie and brother and sisterhood that emerges when the game is done.

[In fact, it’s something that’s always bothered me just a bit about KG and Rondo. They didn’t stay on the floor when it was over. I get when that happens once, but not repeatedly. In all the rivalry games between the Celtics and LeBron, I always admired that LeBron stayed on the court even when he lost….when he was still on Cleveland.]

Anyway, I just thought about this watching Barack Obama give one of his great speeches and talking about Donald Trump. Trump is the guy who takes off before the game is over. he’s a fucking asshole. And it isn’t a Republican thing–John McCain gave a great speech the night Obama won the presidency. So did Mitt Romney. Trump’s a complete asshole. Not just for this reason. Probably for every reason. But this one is resonating. That’s all.

Baseball’s Weird Nostalgia

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Does the guy in this photograph look like one of the best all time players in baseball? Ty Cobb had great numbers, but to say (as ESPN has through both fans and writers) that a guy who played 100 years ago is the 7th best player of all time is absolutely absurd. Besides the massive difference in athleticism, technique, training, and competition from today, Cobb played in a league that banned everyone who wasn’t white.

What kind of messed up nostalgia leads so baseball fans, and many of their writers, to think that Barry Bonds’ numbers deserve an asterisk, but not Ty Cobb’s? Or Babe Ruth’s and Lou Gehrig’s? To many peoples credit, Bonds is getting more support lately–although not from the HOF voters. In this latest poll, he’s ranked 3rd of all time, which is fine I guess. But he’s the only one in the top 10 to have played in the 2000s… and in the 1990s… and in the 1980s. The list is entirely nostalgic. It’s even arguably racist.

Compare that to ESPN’s NBA top ten. 8 of the 10 played in the 1990s or later.

So, why the nostalgia for Ty Cobb in baseball but not Jerry West, George Mikan, or Bob Pettit? Why is Babe Ruth untouchable for a generation of fans who haven’t seen him play, whereas NBA fans can’t be bothered to even think about George Mikan? We’ve all seen Jordan and LeBron, so we know how great they are. And we’ve seen the black and white video of the white guys in short shorts dribbling with their heads down and shooting set shots. But we’ve also seen the pictures of Ty Cobb, the fatness of Babe Ruth, the absurd statistics of guys like Walter Johnson, and the incredible athleticism of modern day players like Bonds, Griffey, Pujols, Trout, and so many others.

It doesn’t make sense to me. I could add the NFL as another league where the modern players are given a lot more preference than the guys who played without helmets. What’s going on with baseball fans and its weird nostalgia for eras that no one can remember?