The moment was raw, powerful and perhaps even a little uncomfortable to watch – as if everyone was interfering in an intimate expression, deprived of pain.
There were no fans at the stadium due to the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, but the NWSL still played “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a CBS speaker and television camera ‘is fixed on two players.
Casey Short, a Chicago Red Stars defender who is black, knelt and sobbed while teammate Julie Ertz, who is white, knelt next to her and also cried. They hugged tightly, as if it would help them endure the 1 minute and 40 seconds of the hymn together.
Once the song reached its final peak, they stood up, wiped the tears from their faces, and were asked to go into the field and try to win a football game, a discordant transition from deep, real struggles to a literal game.
It was a moving moment that may have crystallized the meaning of kneeling during the anthem as well as any other since Colin Kaepernick did it for the first time in 2016.
It should never have happened.
It is high time all American sports leagues stopped playing the national anthem before sporting events – and now is the perfect time to end this obsolete and ill-advised practice.
When was the last time you went to the movies and, after the previews, everyone stood up to greet the flag? And “Jeopardy!” records? Does the audience hear the anthem before the start of the shows? Before the main act of a concert, should they first play a recording of the national anthem?
It never made sense to play the national anthem before games in the American sports leagues. And yet, all do. The NBA, the NFL and, yes, even the NWSL force all of their players to line up and sing in front of an American flag before being allowed to do their job.
It is worth considering where this tradition comes from. As the story goes, the crowd at the World Series in 1918 was dark as the First World War continued. The group at the stadium played “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the seventh inning, and it breathed new life into the crowd, helping to cement the tradition.
There is no crowd today due to the pandemic. And if the leagues always play the anthem even if there is no crowd, who is it for? Is it for the Pentagon, which since 2012 has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on paid propaganda at sporting events (especially NFL games) as a military recruiting tool? Does anyone know even more?
In any case, it is an old tradition and we live in an unprecedented era where the tradition is thrown out the window. From NBA to MLB, sports leagues are planning pandemic-proof events that require new approaches designed from the ground up.
Everything about these upcoming tournaments is new, from locations to programming, formats and media coverage. So why should the pre-game anthem routine stay the same?
MLS, which has its own unique tournament scheduled to start on July 8, has already ruled out playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” during matches. It is not because the league has as many foreign-born players as the Americans and it is weird to force them to participate in American patriotism. No, it’s because of the roots of tradition: the crowd.
“We will not be playing the anthems,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber earlier this month. “There will be no fans in the stands, so we have not seen that it would be appropriate.”
Fans, of course, will return someday. But if the leagues take advantage of this opportunity to stop playing the national anthem, they can normalize the sport without it.
After all, traditions evolve over time. They come, they leave, they change. Sometimes it takes unusual circumstances to advance this development. A global pandemic can be as good an elbow as any other to finally get rid of the anthem at sporting events.
Whether the anthem is played or not, Short, Ertz and any other player in the NWSL have the right to protest against systemic racism in this country.
The NWSL became the first professional team sports league to return on Saturday since the murder of George Floyd, and the players were aware of the platform they had.
They wore Black Lives Matter shirts during pre-game warm-ups and wore black armbands during the game. Before kick-off, they knelt in a planned moment of silence. They weren’t going to avoid using their voices to draw attention to the cause – and that is to the credit of the players.
But playing the national anthem was ultimately the choice of the NWSL and (presumably) of the CBS.
NWSL spokespersons did not respond to an email from Yahoo Sports on Sunday asking why the anthem was played before games in empty stadiums. But the league was quick to share the image of Short Crying on social media and in sponsored content, which felt more exploitative than empowering.
Indeed, a large part of the news coverage and discussions on social networks around the game Red Stars concerned the moment shared between Short and Ertz. And also about Rachel Hill, a white Red Stars player who stood next to Short while all of her teammates were on their knees. The game itself has become an afterthought.
Short shared several thoughtful messages about fighting systemic racism on Twitter earlier this month, so we already have an idea of how she feels. The Red Stars did not make Short available to the media after Saturday’s game, and she hasn’t spoken publicly yet.
She doesn’t need it. It is his time, not ours, and the NWSL should never have broadcast it on live television.
The question of whether the anthem should be played at sporting events is separate from the question of whether players are allowed to kneel during the anthem and whether these displays are important.
Short’s emotional display was powerful and important, especially in light of President Trump retweeting with disgust a video that featured one of his supporters chanting “white power” the next day. (Trump then deleted the retweet.)
Nor is it Short’s responsibility, or the responsibility of any black person, to suffer trauma in front of a live audience so that ignorant people can realize that racial oppression is real. It is not fair to push her to be the symbol of black experience when she is just trying to do her job.
Short is more than just a black woman. She’s quite a good football player who deserves a place on the American national team. She was denied the chance to show this to the world on Saturday.
Red Stars coach Rory Dames gave the following assessment of his team’s performance after a 2-1 loss:
“The emotions you saw Casey before the game, and probably Julie at that time too, a majority of our team had these kinds of emotions all day,” he said, “struggling with the right thing to do. or how do you show solidarity, and how do you support the Black Lives Matter movement and what’s going on. “
“I would say we were quite emotionally spent before we got here.”
If the pre-game anthem causes so much anxiety and disruption within a team, is it worth it? After all, the players had prepared their own protests and gestures to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and it was on their own terms.
There was something different in the hymn – something that touched a deeper chord. It’s worth going back to Colin Kaepernick’s explanation after he refused to run for the anthem in 2016.
“I’m not going to stand up to show the pride of a flag for a country that oppresses blacks and people of color,” said Kaepernick. “For me, it’s bigger than football and it would be selfish for me to look the other way. There are corpses on the street and people who get paid time off and get away with murder. “
In light of the murder of Floyd and other unarmed blacks in recent years, Kaepernick’s sentiment is still as relevant. The truth that some people do not want to accept is that the flag and the anthem cannot mean the same thing to everyone if the American institutions do not protect everyone in the same way.
Basically, playing the national anthem at sporting events is a purely symbolic gesture. All symbols can change their meaning over time, and since 2016, the meaning of it has changed significantly.
It is time for the leagues to recognize this. Once they do, the next course of action is clear.