Sports and the anthem

I feel like I need to make some type of comment on the hype that is permeating media right now around the national anthem and athletes. What began as a small protest by one football player, about racial inequality in America, turned into a massive circus this past weekend. Even President Trump got into the act, criticizing football players for what he perceived as disrespect of the flag. My friend Wes posted a great blog on his thoughts about this from a religious perspective. However, I’m hopeful that this will also start a discussion about patriotism and it’s role in sports.

Starting a sporting event with the national anthem was a practice that wasn’t introduced until the mid-1920s in America, and it was tied to the fact that America was embroiled in wars and financial depression at the time. It was a way to bring people together around their despair at life in a fractured world. It was also a time in history when the USA was really coming into its identity, and patriotism was a key component to bind the country together.

Yet here we are, nearly 100 years later, still trying to rally the troops to support a nation that has been a world superpower for 60+ years. We’re a much different country now than we were back then, and our pride in America goes beyond simple patriotism, and anthems of solidarity. Our pride comes from what American means to the world, and how we treat others in the world. We’re a nation that has led the world for so long that it is no longer a matter of patriotism, but a matter of worldview. Ever since the end of World War II, we are no longer just another country among others. We are the face of democratic freedom to the world.

Today, that image in the world is changing. We’re no longer the country that we once were, although we’re still the undisputed global superpower. Our morals and values are no longer the ideal that the world strives for, and our society is more fractured and divided than ever before. It’s for that reason that I wonder about the point of the anthem at sporting events at all. We’ve moved beyond needing to encourage people be patriotic.

What we need most in this country is to take a hard look at ourselves and make positive changes in areas where we are not living up to our ideals. Hatred of different races, sexualities, and religions shows that we are not the nation of ideals that we espouse to be. Standing for a national anthem at a sporting event doesn’t fix this issue. In fact, displays of overt patriotism often cause people to come face to face with the reality of what our nation really is. Standing up and saluting this reality is a hard pill to swallow.

Despite the attention that it has gotten, the whole notion of the anthem at sporting events has probably outlived it’s purpose. We don’t need patriotism. We need a nation that understands what it wants to be, and how it wants to treat its people. Until we can get past our current divisions, patriotism and anthems mean very little. They are hollow reflections to a time when we thought we all were one people, unified in purpose. Maybe we were never who we really thought we were.

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