Sep 19, 2016
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem – and it became a national scandal.
Why does anyone care? If the media and the NFL had ignored him, few people would have noticed, and Kaepernick’s message protesting police killings of unarmed black men would have gone unheard. You might think this would be an easy solution for the NFL and the TV networks. Yet instead, they made an enormous issue of the national anthem, the flag, and finally, even, the troops.
Singing the national anthem at sporting events is one of the most important ways this country instills unthinking patriotism in ordinary people. This ritual started with baseball during World War I, then came back, again with baseball, in World War II. It soon spread to other sports. And it proved to be a useful way to impose uncritical, unthinking patriotism in the population.
This idea that we should support our country, right or wrong, really means that we should support the decisions of the government – especially when it’s wrong.
Of course, the super-patriots often pretend that we are being asked to “support the troops.” What we are being asked for is to support the wars the U.S. launches – even when, as in Vietnam or Iraq, those wars are brutal wars of domination fought to dominate a population that doesn’t want the U.S. there, and even when the troops, mostly working class youth, pay a bitter price for wars they never decided on.
This country starts instilling unthinking patriotism on children when they’re very young, in school and at sporting events for young people. It is one of the most important ways of getting the population to go along with policies that are clearly against their interests.
So, of course, the NFL and all the sports media people made such a big deal when Kaepernick protested the national anthem. Whether intentionally or not, he called into question this link between sports and unthinking patriotism.