In the long awaited return of NFL football, fans grew silent just before kickoff as players from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys lined up in the end zone and interlocked arms.
Then a video of Alicia Keys lit up and she broke into song accompanied by the Florida A&M Concert Choir as they performed what’s been called the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” As the song finished, the commentator called the performance “a reminder of the true brotherhood the National Football League is.”
Shortly after, the U.S. National Anthem played. This pregame ceremony repeated for each game over the weekend, and it will for the rest of the season.
NFL leadership clearly believes two anthems are needed: one for a select group in our country, and the other that represents the country as a whole. While NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell claims the purpose of playing a racially specific anthem is to unify, how can that be when it separates one group from the rest?
Our national anthem stands for unification. It is meant to be shared, just like we share other things in this country to build community: places of worship, our backyard for cookouts, the playground at the park.
If you divide the anthem, its purpose is defeated. And what good is our national anthem if we cannot unify around it?
Did they just play the "Black National Anthem" to start off the NFL season?
Time to change the channel!
— Nick Adams (@NickAdamsinUSA) September 10, 2021
In many respects, our society loves specialization. In a certain light, this is good.
We can listen to whatever music we want, whenever we want, rather than listen to what radio stations are playing for us. We aren’t at the mercy of TV networks, and can stream any show with the click of a few buttons. Rather than deciding on a central restaurant to eat at, family and friends can have their own favorites delivered right to their door. Everything is catered to our specific desires.
But with this, we share less in common today than we did a few generations ago. There are fewer songs we all know, fewer shows we all watch, fewer favorite foods we all share. And the list goes on.
And while to some extent it’s great to have things personalized to our tastes, we need some common culture to share if we wish to survive as a country. There is no better common culture than that of our national anthem.
Instantly after the black anthem was played this weekend, Twitter lit up with tweets about segregation and further divisiveness. Megyn Kelly called for sports to not be political.
Because if we can’t have one singular anthem — something everyone can unite around and share — we will collapse. The more anthems that are introduced, and the more individualism is called for, the more our national anthem’s ability to bring us together erodes.
At what point will we have nothing left?
The point of the “national” anthem is that nobody needs his own. Arguing against the anthem itself is also arguing against the country. And while many cultures in our country can and should have different traditions, there are some things that need to be shared for us to share in this country. For the good of the country, “national anthem” is one of those things.
Nearly every American can identify the tune of the national anthem, and understand a reference to the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s a simple piece of culture we all learn as kids, and should be one of the similarities all Americans have in common.
If the push for social justice and equality is so great, then taking pride in the one piece of culture that still exists, that we can all share, that can unite us all, is exactly what is called for.
No professional football athletes have spoken up about the divisiveness of playing a song specifically played on behalf of one racial group before every game. But they are the best to raise the issue, and generate change.
Sports are a place where all can come together under one roof and celebrate some of the greatest athletic plays known to man. Even more so, football is the best place for rival fans — whether it be the Steelers versus the Ravens or the Cowboys versus the Eagles — to come together. In rival games that generate so much tension, fans are still seen bonding and getting along because of the great sport of football.
The classic American sport is one of the greatest mediators of all time, making it the best place to unify with one singular anthem. While celebrating good football, fans both at the game and cheering from their living room can celebrate America and unify by honoring our country with the greatest cultural mediator of all time: the national anthem.