NFL to Play ‘Black National Anthem’ Before Games

"Lift Every Voice and Sing" will reportedly precede the "Star-Spangled Banner" in the opening week.

When the furor over then-San Francisco 49er backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ hit, the National Football League and its owners bowed to public outrage. Now, it’s bending over backwards to support the movement Kaepernick championed.

WaPo (“NFL plans for black national anthem to be played at Week 1 games“):

The NFL is considering allowing players to wear helmet decals or jersey patches this season with the names of victims of systemic racism and police brutality, according to a person familiar with the deliberations.

The league, in its latest step amid the national unrest and protests since the May 25 death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, also plans to have the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” performed live or played before kickoff at each Week 1 game of the 2020 season, according to the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the league made no official announcement of its plans.

The song was originally written as a poem and is traditionally known as the black national anthem. It will be played before “The Star-Spangled Banner” at each opening week game, beginning with the Sept. 10 regular season opener in Kansas City, Mo., between the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs and the Houston Texans.

The league has been working with players to identify methods of recognizing victims of racism and police violence, the person familiar with the discussions said. The NFL Players Association also is involved in the deliberations. Other measures being discussed include educational programs and public service announcements about victims and their families.

The NFL has been notorious tight in regulating player expression as long as I’ve been paying attention—going back more than four decades now. The League has been known to fine players for failing to tuck in their jerseys or having a too-long towel for wiping sweat off their hands between plays. In my youth, then-commissioner Pete Rozelle famously fined then-Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon for wearing headbands with personal slogans. More recently, they denied then-Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning permission to wear black shoes to honor his predecessor, Johnny Unitas, who had just died.

While whole teams have worn armbands, logos, and other symbols on their uniforms to honor owners, coaches, and teammates who were sick or had recently died, the League frowned upon individual players doing so. They take the idea of “uniform” seriously.

So, allowing players to use the NFL’s platform to call attention to people killed by police is a big, big deal. And, surely, one that will be controversial. Police unions and their supporters will see it as an anti-police gesture, not support for a grieving community.

The “black national anthem” thing is interesting as well. It, too, will doubtless be seen as outrageous by many. After all, they’ll argue, the NFL would never play a “White National Anthem.”

But, negotiated deftly, this could help heal the wounds of the Kaepernick fight. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” could be a time for players, black and white, to display camaraderie and support for racial justice and then the “Star-Spangled Banner” could play without protest.

If, however, players stand respectfully for the former and kneel for the latter, the flames of outrage will have been fanned.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics, Sports
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    …the flames of outrage will have been fanned.

    Unfortunately, in today’s America the flames of outrage are triggered by any action.

    Lump this into the let no good deed go unpunished category.

    1
  2. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Good. It becomes an acknowledgement of the owners assinine reactions when Kaepernick knelt, and a rejection of Trumpist machinations.

    The whole “may you live in interesting times” thing is really amazing. Having vivid memories of 67-67, and now seeing all of this in 2020… this will be a year that will be remembered and discussed for years. Such a confluence of events and change. There is some hope for the future.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    This is terribly unfair. How come black people get a song that can actually be sung by a human being, while everyone else has to sound like strangled cats going on about ramparts and bursting bombs? First game: Jennifer Hudson sings Lift Every Voice and Roseanne reprises her Star Spangle Banner? How is that going to look? How is it going to sound?

    Can’t we just compromise? We could all sing Billie Jean. Or The Piano Man. Or maybe just Happy Birthday, we can all do that, right?

    3
  4. Jon says:

    This is just about the most token gesture they could make, with the least amount of effort. “Hey, we played your song, all better now, huh?”

    11
  5. DrDaveT says:

    Colin Kaepernick refusing to kneel for the ‘Star Spangled Banner’

    I think you meant “refusing to stand“…

  6. SKI says:

    What Jon said. Completely meaningless and tokenizing gesture.

    2
  7. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: Yes, fixed. He initially refused to stand and was counseled kneeling would be seen as more respectful.

    @Jon: @SKI: They’re also donating a quarter billion to some related causes but, sure, it’s largely hollow. But it’s nonetheless a powerful gesture as gestures go: they’re siding with black players in a way that will alienate a significant number of white fans.

    1
  8. R.Dave says:

    I think this is an absolutely terrible idea, both philosophically and practically. Philosophically, I wholly reject the idea of a “black national anthem” that differs from the actual, universal national anthem. The fact that progressive activists have rejected, and the rest of the left has largely accepted the diminution of, color-blind ideals is a huge, huge step back for this country. And practically, this will absolutely, without an iota of doubt, further polarize fans and observers. With respect, James, there’s just no way on God’s green earth this will “help heal the wounds of the Kaepernick fight”. It will only deepen them.

    5
  9. Joe says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    You apparently have no idea how hard a song Piano Man is to sing.
    @R.Dave:
    I suddenly miss the down vote.

    2
  10. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    But it’s nonetheless a powerful gesture as gestures go: they’re siding with black players in a way that will alienate a significant number of white fans.

    No, a powerful gesture would be to do what the English Premier League has done, and have ALL of the players and officials take a knee together prior to the start of the match, wearing “Black Lives Matter” patches on their uniforms, as a sign that everyone — players, owners, officials, coaches, training staff — are behind this cause whether the fans like that or not.

    7
  11. PJ says:

    @Jon:

    This is just about the most token gesture they could make, with the least amount of effort. “Hey, we played your song, all better now, huh?”

    This.

    Made me think of this tweet by John Legend:

    Real problem: realtors don’t show black people all the properties they qualify for. Fake problem: calling the master bedroom the master bedroom. Fix the real problem, realtors.

    Adding a song doesn’t fix the real problem….

    8
  12. DrDaveT says:

    @R.Dave:

    Philosophically, I wholly reject the idea of a “black national anthem” that differs from the actual, universal national anthem.

    Philosophically, I wholly reject the idea of a “black law” that differs from the actual, universal law of the land. The people who created and imposed that black law care about my philosophical objections about as much as I care about your anthem angst.

    3
  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @R.Dave:
    I agree that color blind should be the ideal, but I’ve come to realize that it’s an end state and that we have some distance to go before getting there. There are stages we evidently have to go through because leaping ahead to the obvious final act is beyond the capacity of white people. MLK tried color blind and white America said, ‘Great theory, but I only hire white guys.’ So we have to do this in stages.

    3
  14. grumpy realist says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’ve always been amused that (aside from being unsingable), our national anthem is set to the tune of an old English drinking song.

    5
  15. Mister Bluster says:

    When I was in Jr. High School (1963) we all thought that this
    was the Black National Anthem.

    1
  16. DrDaveT says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I’ve always been amused that (aside from being unsingable), our national anthem is set to the tune of an old English drinking song.

    Not just any drinking song — a snotty rich kid drinking song. How appropriate, especially now that we have Justice Kavanaugh.

    2
  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    Twelve years old, and he’s in front of an orchestra, playing bongos and harmonica and singing his own composition while running call and response with an audience he can’t even see.

    And when I was 12 I acquired a permanent dimple as a result of standing behind Bubba Hipp when he and I found a golf club in a field. How could I have known that Bubba had such good follow-through?

    2
  18. @R.Dave:

    has largely accepted the diminution of, color-blind ideals

    I used to think that color-blind was the way to go, but it is so patently obvious that “color-blind” means cementing into place white dominance and simply ignoring racism as it currently exists, that I cannot accept that “color-blind” solves anything.

    10
  19. I have to admit: part of me thinks, can’t we just stop all the songs and play the game?

    Having said that, I would prefer sticking with the Anthem and let the players do whatever they feel is right for them.

    7
  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Joe: It’s probably because Reynolds is a true tenor. Or tone deaf. “When I wore a younger man’s clothes,” I could sing it. Thirty-something years of inhaling oral steroids have taken a few steps off the top of my range.

  21. Polimom says:

    @R.Dave: I largely agree with you. It is a horrible idea to have two separate “national anthems”. That leads down an automatically divisive road, or doesn’t anybody remember “Separate but Equal” in the past? We are one country or we are not. This sets a bad precedent for finding a path forward, and will create totally unnecessary diversions from urgent matters.

    Better to find a song that isn’t labeled “national anthem” (regardless of whose it supposedly “belongs” to), play it at the first game instead of anything else, and move on.

    Along with that, I’m not overly impressed with our current national anthem in the first place — in part because it’s horrible to sing, but mainly because its composer AND later verses were racist in the extreme. The longer term solution here is probably to find a new national anthem that we can ALL embrace (and sing…).

    3
  22. Monala says:

    @Polimom: like South Africa did after the fall of apartheid. They honor their diverse cultures by singing each verse in a different language — “Xhosa (first stanza, first two lines), Zulu (first stanza, last two lines), Sesotho (second stanza), Afrikaans (third stanza), and English (final stanza).”

    2
  23. R. Dave says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I used to think that color-blind was the way to go, but it is so patently obvious that “color-blind” means cementing into place white dominance and simply ignoring racism as it currently exists, that I cannot accept that “color-blind” solves anything.

    I think that view significantly underestimates and/or undervalues the massive success of the color-blind ideal in reducing and marginalizing racism and white dominance over the last 50 years. In a single adult lifetime, we’ve gone from public acceptance of Jim Crow to arguing about whether people should be fired for microaggressions on Twitter. Yes, our justice system remains seriously broken in a host of ways that disproportionately harm black people, and that absolutely warrants outrage and reform, but the degree and speed with which the culture, economy and polity as a whole have been moved by the moral force of the color-blind ideal is enormous. I’m deeply skeptical that renewed devotion to racial categorization can match or exceed that record.

    Also, it’s worth noting that color-blind ideals and symbols don’t necessarily have to mean color-blind analysis or policies. We can hold tight to the ideal while recognizing that we still fall short of it and then debate in good faith how our policies should be balanced between the ideal and the reality.

    2
  24. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @DrDaveT: America the Beautiful should have been adopted as National Anthem decades ago. The Ray Charles rendition is my favorite.. brings a tear to my eye.

    7
  25. R. Dave says:

    @DrDaveT: Philosophically, I wholly reject the idea of a “black law” that differs from the actual, universal law of the land. The people who created and imposed that black law care about my philosophical objections about as much as I care about your anthem angst.

    In my opinion, the latter (rejection of color-blind ideals/symbols) leads inexorably toward the former (a separate “black law”). It boggles my mind that people seem to simultaneously believe that (i) the white majority in the United States is deeply and perhaps unalterably racist and (ii) discarding the color-blind ideal in favor of greater racial identitarianism and explicit legal/policy differentiation based on racial categories will work out great for the historically repressed black minority.

  26. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @R. Dave: “Color Blind translates into..ignore the Black.

    What in the ‘Black’ National Anthem isn’t colorblind? The song is titled “Lift EVERY voice and sing”. What you really object to.. is the song being called a BLACK nation anthem.
    As Ive said before, Im convinced Black Derangement Syndrome is a real thing. Because anytime Black people designated anything as, ‘this is for us’…here comes white people indignant about why it has to be called Black…

    So, you dont want us around…you dont want to move to more inclusive cultural real estate…you dont want us to have anything for ourselves…you dont want to pay to repatriate us to the continent we were stolen from. WTF???? It makes you want to tear your hair out.

    2
  27. Mister Bluster says:

    Black woman sings Star Spangled Banner.

    1
  28. Sleeping Dog says:

    @R. Dave:

    A color blind society that treats all races equally is a wonderful ideal, but it doesn’t exist. France has the concept of égalité, which roughly means that if you are a French citizen you are French and equal to all others. This goes to the heart of what the French believe about their society, but even they are coming to the conclusion that color-blindness, in and of itself, doesn’t work.

    2
  29. Mister Bluster says:
  30. Mister Bluster says:
  31. Mister Bluster says:
  32. @R. Dave: I would suggest that ending Jim Crow and a host of other civil rights legislation that has helped us move to where we are were not “color blind.”

    Indeed, as we see the Supreme Court trying to be “color blind” on voting we see more barriers being erected that make voting for blacks more difficult.

    Felony disenfranchisement is allegedly “color blind” (after all, it is about your legal status, not the color of your skin) but the upshot is that it disproportionately affects black citizens.

    This is true for a lot of items in the criminal justice system, such as sentencing for crack possession.

    Without trying to win the argument today, I would ask you to start thinking about policies and institutional parameters that end up hurting blacks more than whites and ask yourself how well “color blind” policies actually help the cause of equality.

    4
  33. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I vote “Just One Victory” by Todd Rundgren. Please forgive the 1970’s LSD era album cover. In every long distance run I’ve ever done since the dawn of running with music, this song has revitalized me at least once. In the Marine Corps Marathon I think it was 6-7 times.

  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jim Brown 32: Ah yes. I can hear it even now.

    How come YOU get your own National Anthem??? I never get ANYTHING of my own. I have to share EVERYTHING with EVERYBODY!!! ALL THE TIME!!! It’s just not FAIR!

    2
  35. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Louie Louie.

    1
  36. DrDaveT says:

    @R. Dave:

    In my opinion, the latter (rejection of color-blind ideals/symbols) leads inexorably toward the former (a separate “black law”).

    Dude, you seem to be missing the point that we are already there. We have a de facto separate law for blacks and for whites, much to the detriment of blacks. I do not worry about being inexorably led to where I already am.

    To get out of where we are, colorblind policies will not work. Have not worked. Cannot work. When we eventually overcome that situation, and achieve actual equality under the law, I will be happy to reconsider your proposed colorblind policies. We will need them then.

    1
  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    I think a color blind society is something we only get after white people stop being such cnts.

    1
  38. Teve says:

    @Michael Reynolds: so in about 900 years, then?

    1
  39. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    In addition to what Steven wrote, it’s worth noting that there are a host of “color-blind” social safety net and education policies that also continue to result in segregated and racially disproportionate results.

    The thing is that once deep race based disproportionality is embedded in a system, equal treatment only perpetuates the status quo. It’s why equitable treatment is fundamentally different than equal treatment.

    1
  40. @mattbernius:

    The thing is that once deep race based disproportionality is embedded in a system, equal treatment only perpetuates the status quo. It’s why equitable treatment is fundamentally different than equal treatment.

    Thanks. That is a much more succinct way of saying what I was trying to point out.

  41. Marcus says:

    So are the White players going to be allowed to take a knee if they don’t agree with it or is this a racist act where only us black folk can protest?