Heaven help you if you fail to join the overwhelming majority in standing up for it. I've tried, and have been - on the worst nights - cursed at and stared at with naked aggression.
|Daring not to stand for the SSB (note: this image|
on Facebook posted by a white US woman in Texas
complaining the woman pictured had "zero respect"
caused a furore on social media earlier this summer)
In the end, getting older, I capitulated and started to stand up with everyone else. Many US sports fans I know reluctantly do the same because it's just not worth the hassle. No one wants to spend a night at a sports event feeling like they're about to be confronted by a Bud-fuelled, raging redneck. It's not like there's going to be a debate. Ask an irrationally patriotic American why they play The Star-Spangled Banner and he or she will ask you back why you don't go and live in another country. That sophisticated discourse hasn't changed for decades.
The brave decision of San Francisco 49ers quarter-back Colin Kaepernick not to stand for this tedious ritual on political grounds is the best thing to happen in the National Football League since Ben Fountain's flag-challenging novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. That excellent work of fiction lays bare the empty ceremonies that NFL teams stage for marketing reasons to honour members of the armed forces. They are tokenistic, borderline insulting calls for fans to mindlessly cheer at fighter jet flyovers and reluctantly waving service members forced to smile politely when the kind of citizen who would vote for war but never venture close to a battle field blandly thanks them "for your service".
Kaepernick's absolutely reasonable justification is that he won't honour the anthem of a country which defies its own constitution by failing to treat black citizens as equals. You'd think that in a democracy, this statement from a high-profile athlete would be the starting point for a civil discussion of a pertinent truth. A section of the conservative white US citizenry is, however, still so threatened by the idea of equality, especially for those it's been oppressing for centuries, that the reaction is dominated by shrill accusations of treachery that barrel towards a single conclusion - patriotism is deaf and blind. It has to be, otherwise it can not bear the scrutiny of calm analysis that would expose it as a sham and a pernicious means of barking down dissent.
|Novel approach to patriotism - Ben|
Fountain's brilliant novel.
European qualifying games for Russia 2018 begin this weekend. Russian armed forces are currently amassing on the eastern Ukrainian border, threatening to invade. Russian armed forces are currently bombing Syrian civilians in a heinous alliance with the war criminal and dictator, President Bashar al-Assad. Maybe they'll be back in time for a flyover at the opening ceremony to showcase the power of the state. Fans can stand and applaud at their awesome might and noise. Why? That's just what we always do, just like we always stand for the anthem, and even sometimes sing along. Why, though? Why?
When trying to answer that question we must spare some mighty applause for Colin Kaepernick, for his dignified protest while putting the right kind of politics into sport. And also ask: how will Fifa stage a global sporting event in a country which in 2018 may still be heavily involved in two wars, maybe more? And will fans and players remain politically, patriotically deaf and blind so that they can participate too?