Editor’s Note: originally ran in the summer of 2020, and we have now updated it in certain places, and re-publishing for the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Political Marketing was my favorite class when I was in graduate school, and many lessons learned from that course stick with me to this day. I selected jingoism, extremist patriotism and all things marketing of the red, white and blue as my term paper topic for this specific course.
Although I penned that paper back during the Bush 43 administration, insights reached back then have as much relevance today as ever. In studying the Star Spangled Banner as well as everyone who takes the national anthem way too seriously, I saw that the plot to Francis Scott Key’s tune was lost a long time ago. We really don’t need it to be played anymore at every single sporting event. It really needs to be reserved for just international competitions at this point.
When US Soccer legend and FOX Sports commentator Alexi Lalas gave his really bad take, via Twitter, on the topic and then apologized later, I really felt that this has all jumped the shark. Just like Drew Brees, you have a sports icon who doesn’t get it, then walks it back, and sounds extremely forced in doing so. Of course, what the anthem really means or is/was supposed to mean is something that went away a long time ago.
Now the most meaningful part of this exercise is speculating on who will stand or kneel for it. Don’t take my word for the anthem outliving its worth at sporting events- just listen to former United States Men’s Soccer Head Coach Bruce Arena.
“I question why we’re playing the anthem in professional sporting events in our country … it puts people in awkward positions,” said Arena, currently the head coach of Major League Soccer club New England Revolution (a side that have about as patriotic or jingoistic a brand identity as anyone in American sports.
“We don’t use the anthem in movie theatres, on Broadway, other events in the US. I don’t think it’s appropriate to have a national anthem before a baseball game or an MLS game.
Arena pointed out how many MLS players were born outside the U.S.
“In MLS, most of the players standing on the field during the national anthem are international players. They aren’t even Americans. So why are we playing the national anthem?... Having said that, I want it understood, I’m very patriotic, but I just think it’s inappropriate. And today, it’s becoming too big of an issue.”
“I understand why people are kneeling … if they’re respectful, it’s appropriate. I’m the most patriotic person you’re going to be around … Honored to represent the US in World Cups and international matches. I think playing the national anthem is clearly appropriate at those levels.”
I couldn’t agree more! For nation vs. nation, blare the Star Spangled Banner as loud as you want! For band of athletic mercenaries loosely affiliated with my city vs. band of athletic mercenaries loosely affiliated with your city, let’s just forego the anthem.
The longer we don’t have sports, on account of how are federal government mishandling the pandemic worse than every other nation on Earth, the more time will be filled with sports figures saying dumb things about the Star Spangled Banner and the more weary we’ll grow of all the hot takes, reactions and reactions to the reactions. It’s best to just let it go and move on.
Long before much of the population completely misunderstood what Colin Kaepernick and company were trying to say by taking a knee during the playing of the anthem, the meaning of the ritual was bastardized.
More specifically, it was just sold out. The anthem became synonymous with paid for patriotism, as “reunions” between armed services members and their families was conducted on field.
It’s amazing that the military-industrial complex believed that the general populace would not eventually catch on to these publicity stunts, as if the people would somehow be too stupid to realize that these “reunions” were all put on for the cameras.
Most of the time, these are sponsored by the Boeings, Lockheed-Martins and other defense contractors.
Simply put it was just sponsored content that you were required to stand for, just like all the sports network programming during Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Patriots Day, Flag Day and Veterans Day.
The last one is when it gets ramped up the most, as November typically brings the most extreme nationalism within the sports world.
Although the Indianapolis 500 is really on its own level entirely.
Prior to the race, there is an onslaught of patriotic rituals and songs, and the level of excess is truly something to behold. Regardless of your views on the national anthem, I would reccommend seeing this at least once, as it’s the most interesting part of the annual spectacle. Here’s the 2018 Indy 500 pregame set list (includes a GREAT use of taxpayer dollars by utilizing one of the most expensive airplanes in history!)
The military does a lot of recruiting and advertising within the sports world, and they pay clubs and networks handsomely to do so. Really, this is what it’s all about- money and that’s it!
It’s advertising, but it comes under the guise of nationalism. You’ll notice that Arena mentioned how patriotic he was, several times, while putting forth his stance.
That’s required these days, if you want to say something like that and still minimize individual brand damage. You have to do the Jeff Winger on “Community” campaign applause line-
“if you ask me what my favorite color is, I’ll tell you that it’s a three way tie between red, white and blue.”
You’re not supposed to use Old Glory for the purpose of crass commercialization.
The U.S. Flag Code reads as follows:
“The Flag Code addresses the impropriety of using the flag as an article of personal adornment, a design of items of temporary use, and item of clothing. The evident purpose of these suggested restraints is to limit the commercial or common usage of the flag, and, thus, maintain its dignity.”
Exploiting the flag, with contrived publicity stunts, is American as apple pie. The raising of the flag at Iwo Jima photo-opp was about as fraudulent as Enron. I suggest you screen the film “Flags of Our Fathers” for more on that topic. Kaepernick was right, he was far ahead of his time and the NFL has now come as close as they will ever come to admitting it.
However, those who thought he was taking a sacred ritual and desecrating it don’t realize, the so-called purity of it, which never truly existed in the first place, was a long time gone by that point.
When you debate these topics, remember the words of Teddy Roosevelt:
“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He’s written for numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune. He regularly appears on NTD News and WGN News Now. Follow the website on Twitter and Instagram.