By: Marlena B. (’20)
The start of this football season marks a change in a time-honored tradition of sports. For decades, “The Star Spangled Banner” has swept through countless professional sports stadiums on game day with little interruption or controversy.
Now, football players are kneeling during the anthem to protest racial injustices and police brutality plaguing the nation’s streets. But how did the national anthem become a staple of American pro sports in the first place?
In the late 1800s and even as early as the Civil War, “The Star Spangled Banner” was played sporadically before baseball games. This changed during the Chicago Cubs vs. Boston Red Sox World Series during World War I.
Officials had actually considered cancelling the series as it did not seem appropriate during war- time efforts, but in the end, they decided to have to the World Series continue. The national anthem was played before the first game and received an overwhelmingly positive response. Fans stood and sung along, and as the series went on, the anthem continued to be played before each game for an increasingly patriotic and enthused crowd. And thus was borne a new tradition.
In 1931, President Herbert Hoover made “The Star Spangled Banner” the official national anthem of the United states. In 1942, during WWII, all baseball teams played the national anthem before games and soon this practice spread to football as well.
After 9/11, the playing of the national anthem at sports events came to symbolize the unity and strength of the American people.
Protesting the National Anthem
Today’s football players are not the first to use the anthem as a vessel of protest. In the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos gained fame for raising their fists in the “black-power” salute on the medal podium while the anthem played. They were thrown out of the olympics for their display. Four years later, another pair of African-American athletes, Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett ,were blocked from further competition for lack of respect.
The public too have protested the anthem, notably during the Vietnam War era where sections of the crowd, albeit small ones, remained seated during the playing of the anthem.
Colin Kaepernick reignited protests when he knelt in August of 2016 and towards the start of the 2017 football season, many other professional football players, coaches and even some owners joined the demonstration.