Anthem acts dividing nation, rather than uniting it

October 1, 2017

Maybe it’s time for public address announcers at American sports venues to make some changes.

When game time arrives, instead of saying, “Ladies and gentlemen we ask that you rise and gentlemen please remove your hats as we honor America with the singing of our National Anthem,” should say “Ladies and gentlemen we ask that you rise and gentlemen please remove your hats as we honor America with the singing of our National Anthem. Of course, if you think that you have been oppressed, your taxes are too high or you disagree with NAFTA, feel free to remain seated or kneel. Your protest will be duly noted.”

Blame Colin Kaepernick or President Trump, but the mixture of sports and politics is complete and unavoidable.

And the tradition of playing or singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games is on the way to being a useless exercise and a bad idea.

As author and political commentator Mark Steyn said this week, “A national anthem can be a national anthem or it can be a political protest. It can’t be both. (NFL players kneeling) is a subversion of a most basic ritual and a hollowing out of one of the few communal acts remaining in a divided nation.”

“It’s nothing about whether they have a right to do it. It’s nothing to do with legal or illegal. In the realm of manners where most of us live, where we don’t require a policeman to tell us where we can do something or not this is disgraceful.”

If anyone else has put it better, I haven’t seen or heard it.

The ritual of singing the national anthem is supposed to be about thousands of people gathered in one place honoring their country. It’s not about rising to declare their country perfect. It’s actually a time for differences to be recognized and set aside for two minutes in recognition of the fact that, despite the flaws, we live in a great country, and it’s probably not a good idea for other countries to mess with us because we will stick together.

If you believe that there’s no need to have the anthem performed before sporting events because it’s forced nationalism or phony patriotism, or because you just hate the song, that’s fine, just forget it and play ball.

But it only makes sense to ask everybody to stand when you know everybody is going to shut up and stand.

• And what if one of the original anthem-sitters, Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks was lying when he said he was racially profiled and brutalized by cops at a casino in Las Vegas?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seemed to give him the benefit of the doubt in an official statement: “Michael Bennett represents the best of the NFL – a leader on his team and in his community...while we understand the Las Vegas Police Department will address this later this evening, the issues Michael has been raising deserve serious attention from all our leaders in every community. We will support Michael and all NFL players in promoting mutual respect between law enforcement and the communities they loyally serve and fair and equal treatment under the law.”

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll went even further. He declared the Las Vegas cops guilty.

“What happened to Michael is a classic illustration of the reality of inequalities that are demonstrated daily,” Carroll said.

“May this incident inspire all of us to respond with compassion when inequalities are brought to light and allow us to have the courage to stand for change. We can do better than this.”

Will Carroll and the Commissioner apologize to the Las Vegas cops if Bennett’s story is found to be untrue or greatly exaggerated? Should Bennett be suspended for conduct detrimental to the league if he lied?

On Friday, the Las Vegas police, after viewing 193 videos of the incident with Bennett, released a two-minute edited version that showed no misconduct. Bennett is shown on the video shaking hands with the cops and saying he understood why he was detained.

Bennett claimed he was singled out because he’s black and the video shows no evidence of that. Is the two-minute video a fair representation or were scenes supporting Bennett left out? Bennett’s attorneys will have access to all the video if they believe that’s the case.

But, if Bennett did lie and accuse a police officer of breaking the law, will Goodell and Carroll apologize?

Will Bennett be suspended?

Stay tuned.

• Had enough politics? Sorry, can’t skip over the stupidity that’s been aimed at the Penguins for accepting an invitation to the White House. Sidney Crosby is getting a lot of heat from the Canadian media and the organization has been forced into defending the decision.

Why not go?

Because lots of people don’t like the mean things that President Trump said about NFL players who kneel during the national anthem? What about the response from Penguins fans who don’t disagree with President Trump?

Are the critics in sports media aware that lots of people who buy tickets for Penguins games and watch them on television voted for Trump? He did win Pennsylvania, by the way.

Do they allow for the possibility that most Penguins fans agree with what he has been saying about the national-anthem fiasco and are looking forward to seeing their team being honored at the White House by the President of the United States?

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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