Standing Up for Sitting Down

By Duncan Clair (@duncanclair)

The controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick really blew up over the weekend as the quarterback – who is trying to claw his way back from the cusp of has-beenery – took a stand against the disproportionate amount of black Americans being killed by police by not standing during the Star Spangled Banner.

Then the takes came, and they were Hot. As. Fuck.

There are lots of things I find off-putting, upsetting and completely ridiculous about some of the things I’ve read about Kaepernick after this, such as:

He should keep his mouth shut and be grateful because he makes a shitload of money in the country whose anthem he is now protesting. Apparently, you lose your right to have an opinion about social issues when you make money.

Apparently, he should be more like Pat Tillman, since to some, foregoing a career as a pro football player to serve his country’s military and a pro athlete using his limited platform to express dissatisfaction with what any reasonable person sees as a problem, are definitely the same thing. Not to mention co-opting someone’s death, heroic or otherwise, is a pretty shitty thing to do.

The overarching themes of advocating for revoking someone’s entitlement to disagree instead of just disagreeing with him and of viewing athletes as commodities, as property, as less than human, are equally hypocritical and troubling.

In one moment we marvel at athletes’ abilities, but in the next, we shout down any inconvenient attempts at commentary on the human experience – particularly athletes who speak out for a specific (read: not white/male) group of the population. They are solely there for our entertainment. You want to act like you’re people? No thanks.

Kaepernick’s stance garnered quite a reaction from people considering it directly impacts exactly no one. There’s no one who’s been slighted in this, justly or otherwise. It’s great if you like getting conveniently outraged (unfortunately many people) and also like stoking your fires of nationalism (also, unfortunately many people). Case in point, this was the third consecutive game before which Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem. Do you know why it’s only an issue now? No one even noticed the first two times.

One thing is undeniable though: none of this would have happened if they didn’t play the anthem in the first place. They shouldn’t have, either, because playing anthems before non-international pro sporting events is silly and archaic.

I can’t think of a legitimate reason why playing anthems of the countries of the participating cities’ teams benefits anyone or is at all appealing, except that it’s always been done that way. That’s a bad reason for doing anything.

The anthems can definitely provide stirring moments of anticipation. It’s definitely been damn cool to sing along at a Raptors playoff game or as a visiting Leafs fan in Pittsburgh along with a few thousand other Canadians. The anthem isn’t necessary to manifest those feelings, though. Lots of US colleges have fight songs steeped in tradition and emotion for their crowds to sing together. Soccer clubs around the world have songs and chants that provide the same amount of hype without the hollow attempt to shoehorn patriotism into the experience.

What started in earnest as a wartime practice in the 1918 World Series was a tribute by the Cubs and Red Sox to returning military personnel and a way to keep up with each other’s increasing attendance as a result of the anthem’s inclusion. It’s also a pretty bad look to be the team who doesn’t play the anthem when vets are returning from the greatest world conflict they had ever known. The anthem carried on as an occasional feature in championship and holiday games, grew over time to become standard fare. Understandably, during major conflicts there’s an active appetite for hearing the national anthem.

Now? The anthem is little more than routine, just as much a part of the fan experience as security checks, scanning your ticket, and overpaying for food and drinks. There is a collective sigh, not begrudging, more of a dutiful indifference when fans are asked to please rise and remove their hats. In a time when the athletes participating are increasingly from different countries than the one in which they’re playing, when the prospect of international conflict is much different than in generations past, whatever the anthems evoke, whether a surge of pride for one’s country or half-hearted singing along, it evaporates once the action begins.

There is, admittedly, a time and place when pro sports serves as a rallying point and the crowd standing for and singing the national anthem is powerful and beautiful. That isn’t 16 or 82 or 162 times a year, though. It should be something reserved for occasions that demand it – something, for better or for worse, special. Because our national anthems should never be anything less.

 

 

 

 

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