Magazine article New York Times Upfront

Football and Patriotism

Magazine article New York Times Upfront

Football and Patriotism

Article excerpt

The N.F.L. is prohibiting players from kneeling during the national anthem. But the debate about patriotism and free speech in sports goes on.

When the National Football League season kicks off this month, much of the focus will be on what happens before the actual games, when "The Star-Spangled Banner" is played. Will some players kneel or stay in the locker room as a protest?

In May, N.F.L. owners approved a new policy that requires players to stand and "show respect for the flag" if they choose to go out onto the field during the national anthem--or to remain in the locker room until the song is over. Players who don't comply could face punishment, and their team could be fined.

The new rule comes nearly two years after Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, sparked a nationwide debate by kneeling on the sidelines during the anthem. The protest, he said, was meant to call attention to police brutality against African-Americans and other racial injustices. Before long several players across the N.F.L. began sitting, kneeling, or raising a fist during the anthem.

Many people, including President Trump, object to such protests, which they view as unpatriotic and disrespectful to the military. Trump has said that any player who doesn't stand for the anthem should be fired, and "maybe you shouldn't be in the country." He has also urged fans to boycott the N.F.L., the country's most popular--and profitable--sports league

In recent months, tensions between the president and the N.F.L. have continued to escalate. In June, Trump disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles to an event at the White House to celebrate their 2018 Super Bowl win. (Most of the team had previously said they wouldn't attend, in part because they disagreed with the president's outspoken stance on the anthem protests.)

Despite outrage from the president, many players and their supporters say that protesting inequality is just as American as displaying the flag or standing for the national anthem.

According to the N.F.L. players' union, which opposes the new rule, the anthem protests are simply an effort to make the nation more equal: "NFL players love their country, support our troops, give back to their communities, and strive to make America a better place."

The Anthem in Sports

Francis Scott Key, a lawyer from Maryland, wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" after witnessing the British attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. The song, originally a poem, officially became the country's national anthem in 1931, and it has been performed at sporting events dating back to the 19th century.

Some believe that Americans have such an intense relationship with the anthem and the flag because the U. …

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