Valley Voices

Why play national anthem at a sporting event?

An Indianapolis Colt player kneels on the field Sunday during warmups before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle. The unidentified player is wearing a special team T-shirt in reference to recent protests during the singing of the national anthem at NFL football games. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
An Indianapolis Colt player kneels on the field Sunday during warmups before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle. The unidentified player is wearing a special team T-shirt in reference to recent protests during the singing of the national anthem at NFL football games. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Associated Press

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

– Samuel Johnson on April 7, 1775

The American Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775, and lasted for a period of over seven years. The war was a reaction to rising hostility of those living in the so-called New World colonies toward the inexcusable taxation policies of Britain’s King George II.

One must remember that for all the nostalgic jingoism we may feel toward being “American” during these modern times, one can imagine how America’s British forbears might have perceived the ungrateful renegades who sought independence from the monarchy.

In fact, I am sure that in the minds of those back home in the old country (Britain) the soon-to-be American colonial revolutionaries were quite unpatriotic.

No one knows the full meaning of the Samuel Johnson quote regarding patriotism, but conventional wisdom believes that he was referring to the cloak of patriotic respectability even scoundrels covers themselves with when all else fails. After all, just about anything goes in the name of patriotism, right?

The president’s recent reference to professional athletes as “sons of bitches,” for merely attempting to exercise their freedom of expression, is just the latest example of our nation’s leader attempting to cloak his unbearable conduct under the guise of patriotism.

Each of us should be proud of the country we call home, both citizen or non-citizen alike. Patriotism is not limited by birthright or citizenship status.

I proudly fly an American flag in my yard on a daily basis and am the son and son-in-law of two former members of the U.S. military. I am proud of those who have served our country in its armed forces both at home and abroad.

However, it is time to “lower the flag” on the playing and singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” during professional sporting events. A professional sporting event is entertainment like a Broadway play or a musical concert. It is no more necessary to play the national anthem before each professional sporting event than it would be to play it before the start of the musical “Hamilton” prior to the raising of the opening curtain.

Those who have vociferously stated politics do not belong in sports are right if they mean during the actual sporting event taking place. That includes the obligatory singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner;” or the “seventh inning stretch” rendition of “God Bless America” or the occasional stadia military aircraft fly-over.

Those who have been criticizing professional athletes for choosing to protest police violence against African-Americans by “taking a knee” during the pre-game playing of the national anthem are missing a key point.

The professional playing field should be as free from our national anthem and players’ reaction to the playing of it as it should be from a pre-game speech from a player or team owner across the stadium public address system regarding whom they are supporting or opposing for political office.

There is no litmus test for patriotism. The beauty of the freedom of expression guaranteed to each of us by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is that no one person may determine for another what being a patriot means to them.

During this entire period of tension associated with the taking a knee controversy, I have been most impressed by military active duty and veterans alike who have stated their unwavering support for the principle that each of us has the constitutionally protected right to freely express our opinion.

Let’s just hope our athletic entertainers soon come to a point when they no longer feel it necessary to express it right before they perform.

Mark T. Harris is a continuing lecturer and director in pre-law studies at the University of California, Merced.

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