Before every NFL game, or any game for that matter, there is some kind of performance of the American national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, written by lawyer, Francis Scott Key. The song was written as Key’s account of the defense of Fort McHenry during the Battle of New Orleans in 1814 and glorifies the horrific violence of war, couching America’s jingoistic purposes in a bombardment of brass and percussion.
Only the first verse of the song is sung, but Francis Scott Key actually wrote three more. Here is the third verse:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
In 1814 slavery was alive and well and Francis Scott Key was a slave-owner who fervently defended the institution of slavery, but also harassed journalists who questioned it. Key was a diehard anti-abolitionist and once called Africans “a distinct and inferior race of people.” Those lyrics could easily be interpreted as Key taking delight in the deaths of freed black slaves who decided to fight on the side of the British.
The song was not officially designated as America’s national anthem until the middle of the 20th century, and even then it was deemed unsuitable by a lot of people because of its brutal militaristic lyrics. Because sports events are so closely tied with the hyperbole of American patriotism it has been played at the beginning of those events and fireworks shows every since.
Colin Kaepernick is changing that. Instead of all eyes being on the American flag during the anthem, they are now on the San Francisco 49ers quarterback (and those who have joined him) sitting or kneeling in protest.
Kaepernick began sitting during the national anthem to show support for the people of color who are being oppressed in our country, and to take a stand against police brutality. He is bravely using his power as an NFL player to create a platform that will effect change for the people who are suffering.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick said, via NFL.com. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
He was first all alone in his protest. Nobody even noticed until the third preseason game and ever since he has continued, but now some other players have started to join him. He has since released a statement:
"I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there's significant change and I feel that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand."
"This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t."
"It's something that can unify this team. It's something that can unify this country. If we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people. If we have these conversations, there's a better understanding of where both sides are coming from."
"I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right."
By September first, Kaepernick was joined by his teammate Eric Reid and Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks, who became the first non-teammate to join in the protest. By September 9th, Denver Broncos linebacker, Brandon Marshall had taken a knee during the national anthem at the regular season opener, which was a first. Unfortunately, as a result, Century Link, a Colorado credit union, terminated sponsorship agreements with Marshall, for not participating in nationalism.
The first Sunday of the season was on the 15th anniversary of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th and on this day several players from the Seahawks, Dolphins, Chiefs and Patriots demonstrated their protest during the national anthem, after standing up for a 9/11 acknowledgement.
Paul Mellon Professor of American History at the University of Cambridge Gary Gerstle said the actions by athletes at the NFL season opener shouldn’t be accused of being anti-American. What they are doing is, in fact, a form of patriotism.
“There are people who say your first obligation as an American citizen is stand with the flag, stand with military, stand for the anthem,” he said. “Declare your patriotism and then we can talk about what we need to change. In times of war it becomes more difficult to carve out a space for that other form of patriotism because there are those who say we must defend the flag first and foremost.”
But what if that flag is for you a symbol of violence and hateful racism? What if the ideals behind it reflect a lack of respect and honor for you and your people? Should everyone who lives on American soil blindly accept what is happening here, without question or comment, simply to support a nationalist country posing as good ol’ American patriots?