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.