In a recent post (http://mikerowe.com/2017/09/otw-we-decide-who-what-gets-our-attention/) that has been reported in many outlets, Mike Rowe (known for Dirty Jobs and his narration of Deadliest Catch) makes an engaging case about how politicians, players, and the NFL brass are using football and the controversy about kneeling vs. standing to make their own points. It’s a short and thoughtful read, and I highly recommend it. Mr. Rowe reminds us that our country is what we make of it. His opening words are a good reminder to all of us:
“In democracies, we the people get the government we deserve. We also get the celebrities we deserve, the artists we deserve, and the athletes we deserve. Because ultimately, we the people get to decide who and what gets our attention, and who and what does not.”
As I do not believe that this is a controversy that is among the most important in this country at this time, I should probably stop writing now. I don’t watch a lot of football, and when I do, I usually miss the kick-off and opening ceremonies, because something else I was doing was more important.
Like many people, however, I have been giving this issue a lot of thought. I was going to write a long post about how my grandmother would castigate me if I didn’t kneel when saying my prayers – any other position was “being lazy.” If kneeling was good enough for God, then it should be good enough for football games in the good ole USA, but Mr. Rowe’s answer made me reconsider. It looks like everyone is trying to take the audience of football and lead them in a direction of his choosing. The players want you to be incensed and take action about police violence against minorities. Mr. Trump wants you to think more highly of his patriotism and fitness for office by leveraging your anger about disrespect for our flag and anthem.
The NFL has tried to have it both ways – be respectful of its players and of those fans who deride their kneeling. This brought me around to another question I was pondering before I read Mr. Rowe’s commentary: “Why are football games preceded by the national anthem?” Football is a game like any other game. It requires teamwork, coordination, and strategy, like many other games. However, most games don’t play the national anthem before commencing. Oh, yes, most of our major televised team sports do (hockey, baseball, soccer, etc.), but other games don’t. Have you ever seen the national anthem played prior to a chess match? A match of Texas Hold ‘Em?
Some may argue, “these are not physical games.” A lousy argument, but if we go with it, can you tell me if bowling matches are preceded by the national anthem? Bowling is certainly physical. How about golf? Do all the players stand at attention at the beginning of a tournament with visors over their hearts while the anthem is played? In a word, no.
So, I wondered, why are football and baseball and other team sports different? The most likely answer (and, yes, I came up with a couple), is that these sports organizations (the NFL, professional baseball, etc.) are using patriotism to try and garner additional support from fans. This theory is supported by an ESPN story (http://www.espn.com/espn/story/_/id/6957582/the-history-national-anthem-sports-espn-magazine)  that indicates that a spontaneous reaction to a seventh-inning playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” in an early game the 1918 World Series was so well-received that team owners had it played in subsequent games to build crowd size at the games. Professional sports organizations played the anthem to boost their game and take advantage of their fan’s patriotism. Now, of course, they risk viewers and attendance by their players’ actions during it.
I always stand for our national anthem, and place my hand on my heart. However, I refuse to be sucked into recognizing football or baseball as more patriotic than poker or golf or even bowling. I can recognize patriotism without having to be hit over the head by the NFL, its players, its players’ detractors, or the President of the United States. In this country, you define patriotism by your deeds, your words, and your preferences.
It’s in your hands.
 The ESPN story also points out that Congress didn’t make the “Star Spangled Banner” our national anthem until 1931, during the depths of the Great Depression, thirteen years after its introduction at the World Series. One wonders if some other song had garnered the reaction of the “Star Spangled Banner,” in the 1918 World Series, if that song might have become our national anthem.