All rise for the anthem. Or not. It's a choice

I grew up as a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and we had a national anthem called "God Save the Queen." From my teenage years onward, I refused to stand up when it was played for the following two reasons -- I don't believe in God, and I don't believe in the Queen. On the several occasions I elected not to stand up, I was neither criticized nor pilloried. My anthem, my choice.

Although I grew up in England, my parents were Scots, and my dad "coaxed" me into following the Scottish national team. When I was a lad, the Scottish national anthem was the jaunty "Scotland the Brave," but few people knew the words, so they changed it to the more accessible "Flower of Scotland." I stood and sang both with gusto before international soccer games, even though the lyrics are outdated, sentimental tosh. For me, the songs served to set the scene and ramp up the atmosphere before a sporting spectacle. To some Scots currently campaigning for independence from the United Kingdom, I imagine that "Flower of Scotland" holds more significance. Their nation, their choice.

Nowadays, I'm a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany, which gave me the option of a passport after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The lyrics to the German national anthem begin with the words, "Unity, Justice and Freedom." Those are values I can get behind, much more so than some blather about distant wars accompanied by spurious visions of God and regal glory. Of course the lyrics to this anthem weren't always so enlightened, but it does a country good to update its flagship tune every now and then to reflect the changing times. Their anthem, my privilege.

I also lived in the United States for 15 years and had an uneasy relationship with the "The Star-Spangled Banner," and not just because -- like many a challenged pre-game warbler -- I couldn't hit all the notes. I once went to a Smithsonian exhibition devoted to Woody Guthrie, and liked the suggestion that his song "This Land Is Your Land" would make for a perfect U.S. national anthem. "The Star-Spangled Banner" seems more like a rally to war than a homage to a diverse, vibrant and democratic land. Whenever it was played in the stadium prior to a Major League Soccer game, I did my best to be preoccupied with a beer and a hot dog on the stadium concourse. Your anthem, my choice.

I never did understand, though, why the anthem had to be played before every single domestic game in a league that featured multiple nationalities. And not just in MLS. They used to blare it through the loud speakers at my neighborhood pool before my daughter's diving meets. She was 6 at the time. There was something quite unsettling at the sight of swim-wear suburbanites clambering up off their towels and deck-chairs on a Sunday afternoon to stand erect, dripping with sweat and sun lotion, in order to pay obeisance to the flag. (It also raised the question -- should I hold my ice cream to my heart? I opted to stay on the sun-lounger and was cussed out as a "low-life" by a gentleman nearby. I said nothing, reasoning that my daughter's diving meet wasn't the place for a discussion. His anthem, my choice.)

I welcome the decision of U.S. Soccer to rescind its no-kneeling policy during the national anthem. I'm only astonished that the ruling existed in the first place, depriving athletes of a choice and therefore their freedom. Dissent does not harm a strong democracy, it can only strengthen it. Dissent sews discussion, which leads to new policies and thinking, and opens up the possibility of progress. Today's protests are tomorrow's history.

In his Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce defined a patriot as "the dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors." There's an alternative to that cynical take -- patriots can be people brave enough to take a stance when the establishment (U.S. Soccer or the NFL, say) is legislating against their freedom of self-expression, and when flags are being histrionically waved in lieu of rational debate. Dissenters -- from abolitionists to suffragettes to civil rights activists -- want change to benefit the majority in their country. It seems an obvious point, but that makes them patriots.

The United States is big enough, old enough and strong enough to embrace protest and dissent. Stand up during your anthem to celebrate what you believe to be great. Or celebrate the fact that you have the freedom to do the opposite. One anthem, two choices.

29 comments about "All rise for the anthem. Or not. It's a choice".
  1. Ken Fadner, June 12, 2020 at 3:18 p.m.

    Well said Ian.

  2. David Ruder replied, June 13, 2020 at 7:54 a.m.

    You know your prose, but in your 15 years here, you learned nothing about America. Perhaps these words Ema Lazarus a second-generation immigrant wrote and is etched on the Statue of Liberty a gift from the French people will help you to understand America better.

    "Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"



  3. Wooden Ships, June 12, 2020 at 3:27 p.m.

    Is there another country that it's players don't stand when playing games for their nation under the FIFA umbrella? 

  4. JD Cepicka, June 12, 2020 at 3:30 p.m.

    Ian- your opinion on the surface is correct, however, I believe their is special circumstances when playing for any national team.  I have been to many national team games both women and men and have watched many more.  I have never seen a player from any other country do
    anything but stand proudly and sing their anthem.  Is this because they are more proud than US players?  I hope not.

  5. Luis Sagastume replied, June 13, 2020 at 8:12 p.m.

    I agree with you! That man sounds pretty selfish!

  6. Bob Quinnell, June 12, 2020 at 3:43 p.m.

     As a longtime soccer referee I have stood for countless thousands of national anthems played before games far below full internationals. Some high schools insist on playing the national anthem before their freshman, junior varsity and varsity games played back to back to back. Isn't once for the day enough? For some time it has been a performance by an artist rather than an anthem, performed in 4/4 time because nobody gets 3 beats to a measure anymore. This of course takes about twice as long. You go to a baseball game, they play the national anthem before the game then "America the Beautiful" at the seventh inning stretch. Save it for the full internationals as they do in most other countries. And if you want to sit or take a knee, go ahead. Thank you Ian.

  7. Michael Bothne, June 12, 2020 at 4:51 p.m.

    It seems to me that if you can not stand for the National Anthem you shouldn't be playing for the natiional team.  If your beliefs are so deep that you can not honor the country and the people of that country by standing, then you must also honor your choice and not play for that country.  Any other time, take a knee, lay down, wander over to the bathroom or eat a snack when the anthem plays.  If your are not playing for the National team, more power to you.  Thousands of men and women have died to give you the chance to be a boor.  All I ask is that you let your actions honor your words.  Let "I will not stand for the National Anthem" be the words that keep you from playing for the National team.

  8. Bill Wells, June 12, 2020 at 5:07 p.m.

    Standing for the US National Anthem is showing respect for what is has cost the USA in blood and lives lost.  As a combat veteran who has seen that loss in blood and lives. So I will stand to show my pride and respect for those young men who gave all, and to those who lost limbs in the service of their country.  All those men who gave all and those who gave some provide Americans the right to choose to sit or stand or take a knee.  So remember that the next time you think it is not important to stand.   
    By the way US Soccer needs to understand that the National team repersents the USA.  Stand and repersent or I wonder how many will just stop supporting sports like Soccer and football.  Remember the NFL a few years back?  I know that soccer  hasn't the deep pockets of the NFL and the boycott hurt the NFL and soccer will just be like it is now, a fourth or fifth sport that plays a sport using how many players that are worn out, from other countries instead of using fresh y oung Americans.  I, for one, will not be attending games if keeling is part of the game.
    Keep sports out of politics or maybe there will be no professional soccer in the good old US of A.

  9. Leo Glickman replied, June 13, 2020 at 12:50 p.m.

    Want to keep politics out of sports?  Stop playing the national anthem at every non national team game.  Let's start with that. Don't shove your politics down my throat. 

  10. Wooden Ships replied, June 13, 2020 at 1:08 p.m.

    Leo, shove? Ashamed are we? You will be okay. 

  11. Michael MacFaden, June 12, 2020 at 5:13 p.m.

    Ian, would you say you were taught (through school, family, community) what respect was first before you made the individual choice to not participate? As a coach I have often find that players learn respect from those in authority around them. They don't always understand the why or where for though. Taipaidh leat.

  12. Wooden Ships replied, June 13, 2020 at 1:10 p.m.

    He didn't answer my question either. 

  13. Ian Plenderleith replied, June 16, 2020 at 5:07 p.m.

    @Michael MacFaden. Nobody taught me to respect either God or the Queen - I was allowed to reach my own conclusions. I went to church until I stopped believing in God, aged 9. I stood for the national anthem until I realised the royal family was a parody of a bad soap opera.

  14. John Foust, June 12, 2020 at 5:20 p.m.

    Ian, I agree with you in principle, that we are big enough as a country to withstand the dissing of our flag and the sacrificed lives it represents.  As an imperfect veteran-citizen of an imperfect country, I nonetheless hold the anthem and flag in MUCH higher regard than the civil rights issues that remain in what was once the freest country on earth (but it is no more, following the socialist spiral downward of the rest of the west).  Why?  It's not about civil rights at that moment - it's about using a moment of unity around what the flag DOES represent, so that together, with that unity, we can address those issues together: racism, other discrimination, unjust/unconstitutional laws, stupid politicians (is that redundant?), all of which have a terrible history (and where is the outcry by Native Americans?).  So even though Kap and Megan cry "it's not about dissing veterans," it absolutely is, if you're a veteran.  Which they aren't.  And we aren't perfect either.  But for those who have put it on the line mortally, and represent those who fell and can no longer make their own argument, I will not support those who kneel before anyone but God.  US Soccer forgot about the rest of us, surrendering as sycophants to the political correctness of the moment.  And BTW, I do most strongly believe that black lives matter ... but after reading the home page of the radical left wing movement by the same name (in caps), I want nothing to do with those values which spit in the face of my faith.

  15. Michael Featherstone, June 12, 2020 at 5:38 p.m.

    Wouldn't it a great world if sportswriters actually wrote about sports for a change.

  16. Valerie Metzler, June 12, 2020 at 5:52 p.m.

    Great article, Ian!  I could not agree more--especially the part about games that are not international.  Thank you!

  17. John Kukitz, June 12, 2020 at 9:18 p.m.

    I am a US Army combat veteran and you are a fucking asshole.

  18. Santiago 1314 replied, June 15, 2020 at 8:29 p.m.

    @John... That's Freedom Of Speech alright... THANK YOU, for your Service... It's the 1st Time I've seen the "F" word used on this Site... I hope I NEVER SEE IT AGAIN.!!! You don't do your Branch any Honor, by Letting a Pansy Waste Anti-American Writer Get under your Skin... my Blood is Boiling also, with a Son that just got Rotated back from Mid-East, and a Father that Served for 8 years,  and My Years With The US National Team... I'm "Pissed", and I've been "Pissed" on in a Foreign Country Representing The USSF... US Players Knelling for The National Anthem; WHAT A DISGRACE.!!!

  19. Derek Mccracken, June 13, 2020 at 11:43 a.m.

    Of course there is a freedom of speech in this great country of ours, unlike many other countries throughout the world. However, that freedom doesn't allow someone, during work hours, to show dissent to our country. These are private companies that are allowed to set their own rules during times when their employees are working. Just like a company in an office building is allowed to tell it's employees not to burn the US flag, not to kneel if the anthem is played during work hours in their offices, MLS, NFL, etc. can do the same. Outside of work hours, they are allowed to protest to their hearts content.

    I always find it amusing how people throw the freedome of speech, expression, etc. in people's faces as justification to protest one of the greatest countries in the history of the world. But, when other people express their freedoms and protest against their flag protests, it's no longer freedom of speech. Really, REALLY strange and short-sighted.

    Racism is horrendous and should never be allowed under any circimstance. Those practicing racisim should be prosecutied to the fullest extend of the law. However, why are so many cowardly people jumping on this strawman argument that white police violence and racism is systemic and prevalent? There are thousands upon thousands of blacks killed every year by guns in black-on-black violence in inner cities and 1-2 blacks a year by white cops with excessive force (these cops should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law). The between cop killings and black-on-black killings is NOT. EVEN. CLOSE. Where is Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the innner cities BLM protests in South Chicago, in D.C., in LA, in NYC, etc. with thousands of blacks killed every year by gangs? Where are all of the whites that are protesting these 1-2 police killing a year? I'll tell you. For BLM, it's more politically beneficial to protest the 1-2 killing per year by white police than protesting the thousands killed each year in inner cities. For whites, they are cowardly to protest the biggest threat, by far, to black lives because they know many in the black community will rail against them. So, instead, they join these protests of killings that are NOT systemic and occur in extremly low percentages. Sad.

  20. Ken Fadner replied, June 14, 2020 at 10:12 a.m.

    David: You said --
    "... There are thousands upon thousands of blacks killed every year by guns in black-on-black violence in inner cities and 1-2 blacks a year by white cops with excessive force ..." Actually, more like 260 blacks are killed each year by police:
    Also, black on black killings are around 2,500 per year. White on white killings are about the same #.

  21. Leo Glickman, June 13, 2020 at 1:05 p.m.

    Thank you Ian, and I like the way you used "choice" as the theme here -- something we should all be able to get behind.  I think playing the national anthem at domestic sporting events is monumentally stupid and an aggressive political statement.  I remember going to Metrostars games after the Iraq War started and having to fight with people over my refusal to stand.  Unnecessary.  

    To some, honoring the flag and national anthem is honoring our veterans.  To me, it is disrespectful to the people who have suffered at the hands of our military and its illegal wars since World War II.  My refusal is solidarity with them.  That's my choice.  Just like not serving in this country's military because of this country's illegal and immoral foreign policy is my choice.  I don't get to call the shots for you and you don't get to call the shots for me.  

    Of course, national team games are different.  But, as is typical, the USSF dealt with this in their usual hamfisted way.  Even if you think protesting the anthem before games is a problem (I don't), there was still no problem.  When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists, it didn't become the norm, it didn't become a problem.  It is today an iconic moment that the vast majority of sports fans now appreciate.  I understand that there might be different opinions about athletes not standing for the anthem when they are representing the national team, and that's fair.  But there was no reason to pass this rule in the first place.  

    And finally, for the record the US national teams don't really represent the country, they represent the USSF.   

    PS, read "The Long Halftime Walk of Billy Lynn" for an excellent book on phony patriotism and sports.

  22. James Madison, June 13, 2020 at 3:18 p.m.

    Maybe, David, they can be more proud of their country than we can at the present time, given that we are not doing a very good job of living up to the poetic phrases on the Statue of Liberty.

  23. Kent James, June 13, 2020 at 3:56 p.m.

    While I largely agree with your column, I do think standing respectfully during the playing of a national anthem (unless you are making a protest) is the right thing to do, even if it's not your anthem.  That being said, kneeling respectfully during an anthem strikes me as an appropriate form of protest, since the whole point is to bring attention to some injustice. 

  24. Santiago 1314 replied, June 15, 2020 at 9:26 p.m.

    @Kent, Can't wait to see US Players Knelling During the Playing Of China's National Anthem, after All, They are Imprisoning 2 Million Muslims and imprisoning the Protrsters in Hong Kong... How about when we Play England or France... They have the same issue Protests of Police Brutality towards Black Men.!!! ... US Team gonna Kneel During the Playing Of "God Save The Queen" or "La Marseillaise".???  ... NO, we will Stand in Respect for their Anthem, But Not Ours.!!!  Hypocrites!!!  

  25. jason bay, June 13, 2020 at 6:41 p.m.

    Ian you're a turd 

  26. Ginger Peeler, June 13, 2020 at 7:57 p.m.

    Jason, there's no reason to start calling people names just because your opinion differs from theirs. Usually, the folks posting here on SoccerAmerica are polite, considerate, thoughtful and respectful of other people's opinions; we don't start hurling epithets for no reason...even if makes you feel better. Juvenile behavior is unnecessary.  Seriously, you need to respect people posting on this site, rather than resorting to 5-year-old-type name calling. I'm sure you're much better than that. 

  27. Charles Callaghan, June 13, 2020 at 9:24 p.m.

    Absolutely. It's called freedom of speech. You may not like what someone is saying or doing but there is a first amendment and citizens of our country should have the right to express themselves. Those kneeling are doing so not with the intention of dishonoring our country but are doing it as a symbolic gesture to bring awareness to the racial inequalities and injustices that exists in our country with the hope that police will stop killing unarmed people of color. The flag and anthem are just symbols. Doing this isn't physically harming anyone. If it's hurting your feelings, ignore them which I suspect you are also doing with the BLM movement or don't watch the game.                          

  28. James Madison, June 15, 2020 at 3:46 p.m.

    If only the United States was currently living up to the words on the Statue of Liberty instead of severly limiting immigration, particularly of refugees.  Not only is the doorway blocked, but we continue to accept, in some cases even praise, the flaws in the nation the statue promises.

  29. Bob Ashpole, June 16, 2020 at 10:59 p.m.

    Protests by US international athletes is nothing new. I know some of you must remember the 1968 Olympics and the raised fists on the podium during the national athem. That act was intended to support human rights generally.

    We can't all be as classy as Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics winning 4 gold medals. As an aside, he wasn't invited to the White House. He was considered by many as the greatest athlete of his day.

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