It’s been done by the same guy in past years and he’s back at it again this NFL season, now being joined by other pro-football players. athletes in other sports and even some high school teams. Their protest, by sitting, kneeling or raising fists during the national anthem, is intended to bring attention to what they view as wrongdoing against African-Americans and other minorities in the U.S. Whatever the case, this action has brought out many Americans for and against the protest: those against view it as disrespectful to our flag; others accept it as free speech allowed by the First Amendment.
The Star-Spangled Banner had its origin in a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, after he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812. The Star-Spangled Banner was recognized for official use by the U.S. Navy in 1889, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and made the national anthem by congressional resolution on March 3, 1931. Before 1931, other songs served as the hymns of American officialdom, including Hail, Columbia, My Country Tis of Thee and America the Beautiful.
In the span of my own lifetime, and presuming most Americans alive today, whenever we’ve been to a ball game of most any kind we’ve heard the announcer say, “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and remove your caps for singing of the national anthem.” This instruction has been simply accepted for a number of years although not that long ago it wasn’t the custom it has become. So, after Colin Kaepernick and his band of fellow athletes now not standing or following the instructions of old, I asked myself how did it happen that this practice was adopted.
In Tacoma’s historic district, across from the Pantages Theater, is a plaque that honors Rossell G. O’Brian, an Irish immigrant who was born in Dublin in 1846 which happens to be a year during which the potato famine ravished many an Irish family and may have had a lot to do with the fact that O’Brian decided on a life in the U.S.
Like many immigrants of old who came to America, O’Brian apparently was determined to show his patriotism to his adopted country. At the age of 16 he joined an Illinois infantry and fought in the U.S. Civil War. By war’s end in 1865, he had achieved Brigadier General status.
After the war he relocated to the Washington Territory. According to his biographer, John Keane, O’Brian became clerk of the Washington State Supreme Court, mayor of Olympia and first commander of the National Guard of Washington Territory.
O’Brian’s fame resulted from what he did at the Bostwick Hotel in Tacoma on October 18, 1893.At a meeting of the local chapter of a national Civil War veterans, O’Brian stood and made a motion, proposing that “People should rise and remove their hats, if they were not in the military, and stand at attention for the playing of any of the national anthems.” The motion passed, and, within a couple of years, the custom had been adopted nationwide and Congress made it part of official United States Code.
I cannot recall in my entire life, having attended a gathering of any kind where The Star-Spangled Banner was played, that any American I knew sat through it, raised a fist or knelt on one knee. Doing that sort of thing is not something that will get a person arrested but it surprises this writer that so many young athletes will join the instigator by this form of protest.
But what I’d most like to know is why this group, too often overpaid, overindulged and over-idolized professional athletes, apparently prefers protest rather than applying their energy volunteering to help black youth or participating in making improvements to black neighborhoods. Instead, they perform grandstanding acts, drawing attention to themselves and serving mostly to aid our nation’s enemies who are always looking to enjoy that which divides us.
(Gene H. McIntyre’s column appears weekly in the Keizertimes.)