Learning how to kneel: “Over the past century, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and baseball have become inextricably wed.”


It wasn’t necessary for Colin Kaepernick to take a knee to dissuade me from watching football. Whatever waning interest remained was jettisoned some years back when the appalling extent of brain injuries and crippling physical impairments finally started being reported.

The NFL’s lies and cover-ups since then sealed the deal. By all rights, we should be protesting the nature of the sport itself, but as for those other protests currently compelling white America to boycott modern gladiators:

(Psst — it’s not about the flag or the military, and it never has been.)

If you’re saying to yourself, well, I never protest, and when I do it is done tastefully, so as to be inoffensive to others … you just might be revealing yourself as a privileged societal cog unable to fathom injustice.

Would you have participated in the American Revolution?

If so, on which side?

So much for football. I’ve always been a baseball fan, anyway, and I was proud as proverbial punch when Bruce Maxwell, a catcher for my beloved Oakland A’s, became the first major leaguer to take a knee. He comes from a military family, and his military family gets it.

The bigger question for me is this: How did the tradition begin of the national anthem being played before sporting events?

It goes back a century, to 1918 and the Great War, which did more than another single event to inaugurate and define the parameters of American “patriotism” as we now (usually unthinkingly) accept it — and also gave us Prohibition, among other intrusions.

America’s forgotten past: “It is worth reviewing how World War I turned out so much worse than the experts and politicians promised.”

 … Wilson acted as if the congressional declaration of war against Germany was also a declaration of war against the Constitution. Harvard professor Irving Babbitt commented in 1924, “Wilson, in the pursuit of his scheme for world service, was led to make light of the constitutional checks on his authority and to reach out almost automatically for unlimited power.” Wilson even urged Congress to set up detention camps to quarantine “alien enemies.”

This entertaining 2011 account tells the rest of the story.

The song remains the same: Over the past century, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and baseball have become inextricably wed, by Luke Cyphers and Ethan Trex (ESPN The Magazine)

THE FIRST THING to remember is that it’s a battle song.

The most memorable lines involve rockets and bombs, and the lesser-known verses conjure “the havoc of war” and “the gloom of the grave.”

The second thing to remember? It’s a taunt, a lyrical grenade chucked at a defeated opponent. “See that flag still flying, the one you tried to capture?” it famously asks the British. Then it answers: “Scoreboard.”

That’s why, in a country that loudly lauds actions on the battlefield and the playing field, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and American athletics have a nearly indissoluble marriage. Hatched during one war, institutionalized during another, this song has become so entrenched in our sports identity that it’s almost impossible to think of one without the other.

Our nation honors war. Our nation loves sports. Our nation glorifies winning. Our national anthem strikes all three chords at the same time.