Bock’s Score: The NFL Keeps Screwing Up The National Anthem

For an old English pub drinking song that evolved into Francis Scott Key’s musical tribute to America, the Star Spangled Banner has caused no end of aggravation for the world’s greatest sports league.

The National Anthem is played before every sporting event. That’s the simple part. It is a tradition that goes back to the 1918 World Series when a wave of patriotism traced to the country’s involvement in World War I, overtook the event and for the first time hats were removed and everybody stood at attention to honor the Anthem and the flag it celebrates.

That was then. This is now.

Now we live in the age of protest and the flag – That Grand Old Flag as composer Irving Berlin once called it – finds itself right there in the center of it. Angered by a wave of social injustice and with few other options to call attention to it, quarterback Colin Kaepernick staged a sit-down strike during the playing of the Anthem two years ago.

That just is not done in the business of football where each week the sport shamelessly wraps itself in the flag. But players on other teams thought it was a pretty good idea and joined Kaepernick’s protest and suddenly, the National Concussion League found itself in the middle of a crisis.

There were a variety of responses by the players. Standing arm-in-arm was one. Kneeling arm-in-arm was another. The league’s answer was to blackball Kaepernick so that he could no longer play and thus no longer sit down. Soon, the president of the United States thrust himself into the affair, suggesting in colorful terms that the protesting players lose their jobs all together. “Fire them!!’’ the president screamed.

Clearly, the problem was not going away so the league decided to address it directly. After much brain-storming but without consulting the Players Association, the league concluded that players on the sidelines during the playing of the Anthem must stand. You don’t want to stand? No problem. Stay in the locker room until the Anthem is over.

It sounded sensible until the union tapped the league on the shoulder and reminded the owners that they should have consulted the Players Association before implementing the change. The union filed a grievance, reminding the league that there is a Collective Bargaining Agreement calling for changes to be, well, bargained. This made a messy situation even messier.

Wait. It gets even worse.

Complicating the matter was the decision of one of the member clubs to implement its own Anthem policy. The Miami Dolphins advised its personnel that a player protesting the Anthem on the field would face a four-game suspension. That’s harsh, especially since the team neglected to get league or union approval.

The solution? With the clock running toward the start of training camps in the next week or so, the league called an urgent timeout.

The Anthem policy is now officially on hold until the league can figure this all out, this time with the help of the Players Association.

Meanwhile, in jolly, old England at a neighborhood pub, someone should lift a cup of grog and play that merry old drinking song. You know, the one that begins “Oh say can you see …’’


About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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