Column: The false patriotism of a required national anthem


Harriet Rovniak

The Dallas Mavericks and their owner, Mark Cuban, did not play the national anthem for the first 13 games of the 2020-21 season.

Sam Culver, news staff

While the United States national anthem has always been a staple at the start of sporting events, the time has passed for institutions to require its playing at Northeastern sports games or elsewhere. The national anthem is no longer the symbol of pure, innocent patriotism it once was.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was written on September 14, 1814 by Francis Scott Key as he watched the American flag being raised above Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, signaling a critical U.S. victory over the invading British in the War of 1812. Interestingly enough, one of the few invasions on American soil since the War of 1812 came this past January in support of President Donald Trump, one of the most avid supporters of pregame national anthems.

After the song became popular during the Civil War, President Woodrow Wilson issued a 1916 executive order declaring it the national anthem of the U.S. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was first played at a sporting event during the seventh-inning stretch of game one of the 1918 World Series, whereupon fans and players fell silent and saluted the flag.

The conversation surrounding the national anthem and its presence at sporting events was sparked Aug. 26, 2016, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem of his preseason NFL game to protest the injustices related to police brutality on Black Americans. 

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

After consulting with former Green Beret soldier Nate Boyer, Kaepernick adjusted his protest form from sitting to kneeling, which Boyer told him better showed respect to the troops fighting for the U.S. Despite this compromise and Kaepernick’s insistence that his protest is about the treatment of Black Americans and not U.S. soldiers, the predictable outcry of “support our troops” arose from certain less-progressive factions of the nation.

The aforementioned Trump, who went on from this national anthem situation to become the one-term, twice-impeached president of our so-called “greatest country in the world,” was unsurprisingly against the protests for improving the lives of Black Americans.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a [expletive] off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said.

Despite the immediate backlash, Kaepernick carried on kneeling and was joined by teammates and players across the league. After George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, national anthem protests on behalf of Black Americans, specifically when it came to police brutality, picked up across all major leagues when sports were able to resume.

In the NBA, the Dallas Mavericks and their owner Mark Cuban did not play the national anthem for the first 13 games of the 2020-21 season, with Cuban citing that some people feel the anthem does not represent them. It should come as no surprise that a team led by superstars Luka Doncic of Slovenia and Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia would not feel well represented by the U.S. national anthem.

On Feb. 10, NBA commissioner Adam Silver, after allowing kneeling during the national anthem, which goes against league policy, relayed his expectations that the national anthem be played before every game. The Mavericks have played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at each home game since.

It is well past the time for the U.S. national anthem to be required before sporting events, even at Northeastern University. This is not a practice carried out in other countries. The U.S. currently has a nationalism issue. This issue did not start with the campaign and election of Trump, but he has not helped. 

Many Americans believe not only that we are the greatest country in the world, but the only country with people worth caring about. To these people, their fellow Americans from minority communities don’t quite seem to fit into their definition of an American. Trump hounded Hawaiian-born President Barack Obama — our first Black president — for months to release his birth certificate, claiming that he was born in Kenya. These are not the people whose beliefs we want to be encouraging. 

If an individual organization wants to play the national anthem before their games, they should of course be allowed to. But the strongarming and forceful nature of national anthem mandates actually goes against everything our country supposedly stands for. If one were to ask the above-mentioned racist nationalistic lunatics what word describes the U.S., it would probably be freedom. The same freedom they hate to see the Mavericks and Colin Kaepernick utilize. 

People act as though sports without the national anthem is some kind of American tragedy the likes of, say, our seat of power being stormed by a mob, but no other place of work requires their employees to stand for the anthem at the start of the day. 

Northeastern prides itself on the diverse backgrounds of its students, and playing the anthem of only one country seems opposing to this prideful sentiment. International students comprise about 32.5% of the student body population, so why is there a requirement to play an anthem that doesn’t represent a third of us? Individual sports teams should obviously be allowed to play the anthem, but there should not be a dictatorial-style rule mandating it.

Due to the controversy surrounding the anthem and its protests, “The Star-Spangled Banner” has sadly been turned into a tool to swear unyielding fealty to the U.S., a method to demonize anyone who asks for improvement as an un-American, troop-hating treasonist. 

“I don’t understand what’s un-American about fighting for liberty and justice for everyone, for the equality that this country says it stands for,” Kaepernick said. “To me, I see it as very patriotic and American to uphold the United States to the standards it lives by.”

A required national anthem is something we would expect to hear about on the news from war-torn dictatorial regimes as a call to the servitude of the people to an unelected leader. Yet, it lives here in the U.S., the “greatest country on Earth” and a pinnacle of freedom. The “land of the free” should not require the playing of its national anthem, and the people in the “home of the brave” should stand up for their rights.