National anthem must serve the voice of the people

Ignorant nationalism cannot silence America’s injustices

Cooper Sullivan, Staff Columnist

Owner of the Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban is under fire after announcing that his team will not be playing the national anthem before their home games for the remainder of the season. In the announcement, Cuban also revealed that the team had not been playing the anthem before any of their previous 13 home games. This announcement was met with criticism, unsurprisingly so considering the debate of whether or not the national anthem should hold such importance at sporting events has been a point of contemptment across the country for several years now. And so, the question remains: why is this still an issue?

As ESPN’s Mina Kimes pointed out on Feb. 10, the fact that it took a formal announcement from the owner of the team, a month and a half after the fact, to cause a stir shows exactly how important the national anthem is to the basketball world. Cuban’s decision to omit the national anthem from game nights is understandable given that the “American rallying cry” has caused more division than unity in recent years.

Playing the national anthem before a sporting event has never made sense. In what ways do the 200-year-old lyrics sung by a local D-list celebrity hype up Luka Dončić, Kristaps Porzingis or Boban Marjanović to play better? Why are some people so enamored with trying to control everyone’s pregame playlist? In no other profession do the employees have to listen to the national anthem. Not in call centers, cubicles or construction trailers. Yet if you’re on the court, you do.

No one can argue that the influence of athletes and their ability to shape society has grown exponentially in recent years with the advent of social media and devout followings on apps such as Instagram and Twitter. If and how they should use their platforms has spawned into another debate entirely. 

“Shut up and dribble” may have been the dumbest thing uttered by a Fox News host since “Stop the Steal” or “COVID-19 is a hoax.” So, when it’s easier to ignore the personal beliefs of your favorite player with the click of a button, the necessity of an undeterred spotlight becomes even greater.

The idea and purpose of playing the national anthem have now shifted. Like Colin Kaepernick has explained countless times, the song is a platform. An allotted two minutes, before when he proceeds to entertain everyone for the next hour, where he can make his voice heard. Kneeling, as Kaepernick has explained, was not a protest. Instead, he intended the action to be a catalyst for conversations, conversations he might have hoped would proceed like this:

“Hey Colin, why were you kneeling during the national anthem?”

“Oh, I’m glad you noticed. I wanted to draw attention to the increasing police brutality and discrepancies in racial equality that black and brown communities face in the American legal system every day.”

“Colin, my kids were in the stands, how could you bring up topics that are so heinous and violent? My daughter is seven, she shouldn’t even be thinking about this.”

“I’m glad we agree that this is a heinous topic. And you’re right, no kid should be concerned with something so traumatizing at such a young age. No one at any age should. But young black kids have been facing this horror for decades.”

“That’s a good point, Colin. I do think that my child’s awareness of such a tragedy is important in preventing this from continuing in the future. But how can we enact change now?”

“Well, that’s a bit trickier and takes more than just awareness. I think the first step is widespread re-education about police authority and how marginalized communities are consistently targeted. Then we must destroy those systems that uphold racist beliefs and prevent growth and prosperity in oppressed communities.”

“Wow Colin, I really appreciate you opening my eyes to this horrendous situation. I will start doing my part by re-educating my friends and family.”

Instead, we keep hearing the repeated lines of “If you don’t love it, then leave” and “My grandpa died in Vietnam fighting for your freedom, this is disrespectful to the flag and all veterans.”

First off, trying to correct your society’s deep-rooted faults — especially when those faults are actively destroying millions of people’s lives — is perhaps the most powerful manifestation of love that there is. Ignoring the problem just increases ignorance.

Second, we’re talking about a flag here, a piece of cloth — it doesn’t have any feelings. The stars and stripes are sold in the form of beach towels, shot glasses and lingerie. How can people claim that it’s more disrespectful to place a single knee on the ground?

Third, during the 1960s and 70s, the American government drafted unwilling young kids, a large number of which were poor minorities, to fight in a war. Worse yet, the politicians knew this war, against a group of people halfway across the world, was unwinnable. You want to show respect towards veterans? Improve the VA healthcare system. Give housing to the 37,000 homeless veterans. Stop voting for politicians who support policies that lead to international conflicts and result in young men and women being sent off to die.

The national anthem provides players the opportunity to protest any issue, with any method they desire, regardless of whether or not the people want to listen. For two minutes, it’s just them, the music and the world’s eyes. In lieu of Cuban’s announcement, the NBA recently ruled that all teams must play the national anthem before all games for the rest of the season. Maybe in the future, the league office will truly realize how inconsequential this song truly is. But, as long as that song is played on a nationally televised stage, and as long as there are severe societal injustices, knees will be taken and protests will be held. 

If that offends you, why not work towards ending the root issue?