San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the playing of the national anthem before the team’s game last weekend against the Green Bay Packers. He says he was protesting what he believes is wrongful treatment of African Americans and minorities in the US, NFL.com reports.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he was quoted as saying. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Every Friday night, all across America, high school marching bands play the “Star-Spangled Banner” in front of home football crowds. It’s a practice as old as high school football. However, the tradition of singing the national anthem before sporting events is noticeably absent in European and Asian countries, like Germany and Japan.
“I’ve probably conducted the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ 500 times, and taught it, in some form or for some purpose, every one of my 31 years in the classroom,” writes Nancy Flanagan, a 30-plus-year veteran in the K-12 music classrooms in Hartland, Michigan, a National Board Certified Teacher, and the 1993 Michigan Teacher of the Year. “I don’t particularly like it, but it’s one of those ‘part of the job’ music-teacher tasks that becomes habitual, boring, and then—on unexpected occasions—moving.”
For the “Teacher in a Strange Land” blog in Education Week, she adds:
Actually, this kind of thing happens fairly frequently: the student who refuses to pledge allegiance to the flag, or the child whose parents pull her out of the Valentine’s Day party. … Sometimes, teachers gossip in the lounge, expressing pity for kids whose parents have non-standard beliefs or practices. But in my experience, students whose families are out of the mainstream often have tighter family bonds and strong support for academic achievement. Smart school leaders honor students’ and families’ beliefs, as long as they’re not harmful. It’s better to stand for something. … Each time I see another discussion—even heated comments—about what it means to revere the flag, I think: Good. This will give American citizens and, one hopes, students, something to study and pick apart our deeply racist history, our national values. Our right of free expression.
Sometimes not saying something is just as much an expression of free speech as saying something is. Not only does this high-profile refusal to sing the national anthem provide a good base for discussion about issues facing the nation, but it also provides an opportunity to learn something about this famous song that is so ingrained in our national culture.
The lyrics come from the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry” by Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer, and were written on September 14, 1814, after he saw Fort McHenry bombed by British ships in Baltimore Harbor. The tune, originally by John Stafford Smith, who wrote it for a men’s social club in London known as the “Anacreontic Society,” was entitled “To Anacreon in Heaven.”
The glory Key’s words put on war is considered outdated by some. He adamantly opposed the War of 1812, according to History.com, referring to the war as “abominable” and “a lump of wickedness.” He did, however, serve in the military after the British began attacking cities he loved along the Chesapeake Bay.
And Smith’s tune is generally thought to be hard to sing. Whatever you do, don’t start too high, keep it simple, and in the name of Michael Bolton, memorize the words. All the words.