While not the firstÂ athlete to protest,Â Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit and then kneel during the national anthem â whether you agree or disagree with his actions â has started branches of dialogue in various directions.
Is he trying to attract attention to himself? Is he really trying to help a cause he feels is justified through his actions? Could Kaepernick have found a different way to levy his protest?
While many are adamant that Kaepernick has every right to his manner of protest, most people I have discussed his actions with have taken one of two tones: 1) “While I respect his right to protest, he has to respect my right to feel what he is doing is inappropriate.” 2) “Kaepernick should be punished by the San Francisco 49ers or the NFL.”
However, a completely different discussion has also emerged. Why is the national anthem played for all sports events in the United States? When did this tradition begin?Â
In the United States, this scene occurs before almost all organized sporting events at almost every level. I played Little League baseball, middle school, high school, and college sports. During and after my college days, I officiated high school and college basketball for 23 seasons. The anthem has been played and/or sung before almost every game. If an NBA team is playing the Toronto Raptors, the Canadian national anthem is also performed. Both are played before every NHL game. And NASCAR races likely are among the top sporting events for displays of patriotism.
During a recentÂ HBO “RealSports” segment entitled, “The Anthem,” host Bryant Gumbel points out the United States seems to be the only country that plays it’s national anthem before sporting events. In 2014, author and musician Mark Ferris wrote a book entitled, “Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem.” According to Ferris, the national anthem was first played at Major League Baseball games in the United States during World War I. The anthem became commonplace at baseball games during World War II as baseball stadiums added public addressÂ announcers to their venues.
From MLB, the tradition spread to other sports throughout the United States. According to Ferris, sports fans adopted the military’s reverence for the anthem by standing to show respect for the flag. As the “Real Sports” program also points out, since the tragedy of 9/11,Â we have seen a similar tradition born with the singing of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch at MLB games.
The New York Mets standing for the singing of “God Bless America.” (Getty)
Journalist and ESPN senior writer Howard Bryant says that Kaepernick chose the ideal situation to bring attention to police brutality. In an earlier 2013 article, entitled “Sports and Patriotism,”Â Bryant stated, “In a time of international terrorism, school shootings and domestic terrorism, the hero list has been expanded to include the police (at the ballpark, preferably officers who can sing) and firemen, as well as the military.” Bryant believes sporting events are being utilized as “pep rallies” for these groups, which helps to sell sports to the public.
Real Sports, with the Marist Center for Sports Communication, conducted a poll and found most differences of opinions occurred across political lines. In other words, whether you are Republican or Democrat determined your view on this topic. When asked the question, “Should athletes be required to stand for the national anthem?” 71 percent of Republicans said “yes,” and 36 percent of Democrats agreed. When asked whether athletes should be involved in politics or social causes, 66 percent of Democrats said “yes” and 41 percent of Republicans approved. Whether Republican or Democrat, overall only 8 percent of people believed the national anthem should no longer be played before sporting events. (The margin of error for the poll was plus or -2.7 percent.)
Despite the differences of opinion about the national anthem before sporting events, why do most Americans support thisÂ tradition? Many believe it is simply “the right thing to do,” or “important to show patriotism,” and to honorÂ those who have sacrificed for our well-being. In his article entitled “War, sports and patriotism: The power of identification,” Mateo Sol says we identify with sports teams (as we may do with our country) to fulfill a need to feel a part of something larger than ourselves. Dr. Allen R. McConnellÂ agrees that being a sports fan fulfills our need to belong and impacts our self-esteem.
Therefore, while standing for the national anthem at a sporting event, many feel a sense of community and connectedness that is attractive to our souls. At theseÂ same sporting events,Â although some fans are certainly cheering for opposing teams, there areÂ usuallyÂ underlying communal feelings of “we are here to cheer our teams.”
I will continue to stand for the rendering of the national anthem to show my respect for our country.Â Despite theÂ UnitedÂ States beingÂ a country with wide-rangingÂ diversity, my hope is our positiveÂ feelings for our countryÂ will sustain our acceptanceÂ of opinions dissimilar to our own.
Kevin L. Burke is a sport psychology professor and consultant at Queens University in Charlotte, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @sportpsyching.
Updated at 2:52 p.m. ET