National anthem historically heard at sporting events

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Defense Department pays millions of tax dollars for patriotic display.

By Sasha D. Robinson

While many Americans view the national anthem as a sign of patriotism and a show of respect for the U.S. armed forces, a government professor here said it’s paid advertising by the military.

In the wake of President Donald Trump calling for NFL owners to fire players who kneel during the national anthem, Professor Wanda-Lee Smith said in a phone interview Oct. 19, it is alarming to have the president address NFL players so.

Though kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” was intended to protest police brutality against African-Americans, many see it as protest against the flag.

Smith said the national anthem is being used as a promotional tool at sporting events.

“This is a military recruitment,” Smith said. “This has nothing to do with patriotism, getting Americans to protect their country. It was a recruitment tactic, a promotional tactic and an advertisement.”

The first documented performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was at an opening day baseball game May 15, 1862, at Union Baseball Cricket Grounds in Brooklyn, New York.

According to Sept. 4, 2016, “How Did the National Anthem Get To Be A Mainstay Of Sports In The First Place,” Marc Ferris wrote in “Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem” that hiring a band was a big enough cost that the anthem was saved for “special occasions” like opening day.

When the United States entered World War I, Major League Baseball played “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the 1918 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

On Time magazine’s website Sept. 25, “Here’s How Standing for the National Anthem Became Part of U.S. Sports Tradition” by Olivia B. Waxman told how the series almost did not happen that year.

When it was known the American soldiers were eager to know the series results, the games were played.

President Herbert Hoover signed a law making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem March 4, 1931.

During World War II, the national anthem was played before the start of MLB and NFL games.

After Japan announced it would surrender in August 1945, former NFL commissioner Elmer Layden said the anthem should be played before the kickoff of every NFL game.

“We must not drop it simply because the war is over,” Layden said. “We should never forget what it stands for.”

According to the Sept. 26 article “How the Pentagon paid for NFL displays of Patriotism” written by Emma Niles at, NFL players would stay in the locker room during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and did not appear on the field for the anthem except for the Super Bowl and after Sept. 11, 2001, until the 2009 football season.

According to the article, the Department of Defense gave the NFL $5.4 million between 2011 and 2014 and the National Guard gave $6.7 million between 2013 and 2015 in exchange for a display of patriotism during the games to aid recruitment.

Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake wrote a joint report in 2015 about how patriotism is being displayed with taxpayer money:

“While we fully support the intent of the coaches and players programs and understand the need to cultivate long-term relationships with individuals who can influence the decisions of prospective recruits, we find the tactics used by the military services questionable and the benefits to taxpayers undefined. If the most compelling message about military service we can deliver to prospective recruits and influencers is the promise of game tickets, gifts and player appearances, we need to rethink our approach to how we are inspiring qualified men and women to military service.”

In the Nov. 4, 2015, article “Report: Pentagon spent millions on ’paid patriotism’ with pro sports leagues,” by Burgess Everett at, the Georgia Army National Guard paid the Atlanta Falcons $879,000 for color-guard performances and video board tributes.

Unlike Major League Baseball and the NFL, the National Basketball Association has a rule in its code of conduct that players and coaches stand during the playing of the national anthem.


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