Last week, the NFL announced that the Black National Anthem would be played at all their games in addition to the song recognized as the US National Anthem, The Star-
Spangled Banner. In the spirit of full disclosure, until I read the report of this addition to NFL games, I did not know there was such a thing as a Black National Anthem. It took me less than 15 seconds to find a video online thanks to Google showing Alicia Keys singing the song titled Lift Every Voice and Sing. It is a lovely song and Ms. Keys’ rendition is moving and entertaining.
Having said that, I am not so sure this is a good move for the NFL or for US society in general. Before anyone consigns me to a supervisory position in a white supremacy organization, please let me explain.
Five years ago, the NFL was an innocent bystander in a protest involving the US National Anthem. When Colin Kaepernick began his protest, I said then – and I continue to believe – that his message was important and his issue of harsh police practices against Black people is one that needed to be fixed. I agreed with the goal of his protest then and I continue to believe in it. I also said then – and I continue to believe – that he chose a bad way to “use his platform” when he chose to kneel during the National Anthem. By choosing that means of protest, Colin Kaepernick guaranteed that the debate would be divided between his issue and the outrage of some folks who saw his protest only as disrespect for the anthem, the flag and the country itself.
The NFL was an innocent bystander here because it did not instigate the protest; it did not encourage the protest; it did not suspend players who joined the protest. Now, for reasons I do not pretend to understand, the NFL has chosen to put itself in the bullseye of what is certain to become a controversy. Within hours of the announcement of this new musical policy, social media – – actually very anti-social media – – saw lots of real and exaggerated outrage over this announcement labeling it as more of the “cancel culture”. Folks on politically conservative news networks chimed in with their faux disbelief that the NFL could have possibly done such a thing.
None of that surprised me, and I really doubt that the NFL was taken by surprise there either. If that is all there is ever to be about this addition of the Black National Anthem to the staging of NFL games, I am sure the NFL will see this as a big win for the league in that its image as a “good citizen” would be enhanced.
Now comes a “What if…”
What if a player or coach – of any race or ethnicity – chooses to protest the addition of the Black National Anthem by turning his/her back or taking a knee or sitting down or doing jumping jacks on the sidelines as it is being played or sung? Remember, Colin Kaepernick remained an active NFL player for an entire season as he protested back in 2016, so what recourse might the league have here? My guess is that the NFL would say in this sort of situation that they welcome all points of view because the goal of the NFL is to entertain everyone not merely part of the population. But that situation would still be “a bad optic” for the league – – particularly if the putative protester here was a 350-lb offensive lineman who chose the jumping jacks protest suggested above.
- [Aside: At least half – and probably more than half – of the writers and commentators on the scene in 2016 portrayed Colin Kaepernick positively. I wonder if those same writers and commentators would have a similar view of my jumping jacks offensive lineman. I suspect not.]
I cannot stop wondering how and why the NFL did not learn something from Colin Kaepernick’s protest in 2016. In my view, he picked the wrong target (the National Anthem) and he protested in the wrong place (on the sidelines of a football stadium instead of on the steps of a local police station). The NFL does not have a wide variety of venues to show its support of improving race relations in the US and of a more inclusive/equality-based society; so, I cannot fault them for using the presentation of their games as their vehicle here. However, they saw how visceral the reaction was to “messing with the National Anthem” five years ago. Why pick the same focus for this initiative? Why flick the scab off that wound?
In previous rants here, I have sometimes referred to an imaginary organization that I call PSLTBPOAJAE – or People Spring-Loaded To Be Pissed Off At Just About Everything. The organization is imaginary, but there are people who can be offended by things that certainly seem less than vitally important to me. So, let me pose another “What if…” here.
What if an activist group advocating for a minority community in the US is now offended by the fact that the NFL will “show an acceptance” for a Black National Anthem but has not acknowledged that particular activist group’s own anthem? It may not be likely to happen, but please do not tell me it cannot happen. I have no idea if other minority communities have songs that they acknowledge as their own anthem in “hyphenated-America”, but if such things are in fact out there, we will learn of their existence sometime this autumn. Is that a wonderful turn of events?
- [Aside: Please note I do not have a “What if…” for fans demonstrating in some way. That is because I will be shocked if there are no fan demonstrations of a negative character based on this musical policy. My fundamental hope is that fan demonstrations simply follow Ron Burgundy’s exhortation, “Stay classy…”]
And it is that last potential point of possible confrontation that concerns me the most. What might it say about the status and the stability of US society in 2021 if there are myriad minority groups in the country that believe they have their own “national anthem”? Is it mandatory in the name of “inclusion” that everyone in every group accepts the validity of every other group’s hyphenated-American national anthem?
Sorry, but I do not think it says anything positive at all. Therefore, the NFL’s choice to associate itself with one of the “hyphenated anthems” starts us collectively down a path that may not have a desirable endpoint. The adage that the “road to Hell is paved with good intentions” seems eerily pertinent here. Is the NFL’s recent decision one that is inevitably “inclusive” or is it one that is more “divisive” than anyone would wish for? Is it the goal to have lots of “hyphenated-Americas” interacting with one another or is it the goal to have a more unified America? I adamantly prefer the latter.
Let me repeat myself.
- I like the song, Lift Every Voice and Sing.
- I take NO offense at its being played at NFL games just as I take NO offense at the US National Anthem being played at NFL games.
- At the same time, I would not care even a little bit if neither song nor both songs were part of the NFL game experience.
- I agree with and continue to support the NFL’s actions seeking to make US society more inclusive and more equal for everyone in the country.
- And with all that, I think this was a wrong decision by the NFL because I fear it will create as much division and disharmony as it produces progress.
Finally, idealism is an element of many of the NFL’s actions and efforts mentioned above. So, let me close here with this observation by H. L. Mencken:
“An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………