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Douglas Andrews / July 23, 2021

Sports and the Wages of Wokeness

The NFL’s decision to play “The Black National Anthem” at every game in 2021 is divisive, not unifying.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a uniquely American song, a beautiful spiritual written more than a century ago by author, poet, and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson. As such, it deserves better than to be made a political football.

But that’s exactly what it’ll become if reports are true that the National Football League will play the song before every NFL game this year. Multiple media outlets have picked up this news, but the league office hasn’t yet summoned up the courage to either confirm or deny it.

The song is often referred to as “The Black National Anthem,” and the obvious and incendiary question that poses is whether “The Star Spangled Banner” is thus “The White National Anthem.”

Who mistakenly calls “Lift Every Voice and Sing” a national anthem? Only those who don’t understand what the term national anthem means, and those who seek to divide our nation, black from white, rather than unite it under a patriotic common purpose.

It’s hard to imagine a group of men who ought to be more uniformly grateful to their country than the NFL’s 1,696 players who are paid to play a game and whose average annual salary is well north of $3 million. Except NBAers, whose average annual salary is more than $8 million, and whose job description doesn’t call for knocking one’s opponent into next week.

The NFL’s decision, its proponents will say, is an appropriate effort to acknowledge the racial balance of the league, which is around 70% black. More important, though, is that the league is and always has been nearly 100% American. And it’s this latter fact that now seems to escape the NFL’s racial do-gooders. As National Review’s Rich Lowry writes:

The NFL has been such a battlefield for the cultural struggle over the national anthem and protests because it long ago eclipsed baseball as the national pastime. Heretofore, as one would expect of such a thoroughly American sport, the league had identified itself with a robust patriotism (pre-game flyovers, gigantic American flags unfurled on the field, tributes to servicemembers…).

That the NFL has swung drastically the other way is a sign that a new national identity is emerging to supplant the old. This new American identity is, of course, getting pushed by every lever of elite culture. It is defined by “anti-racism” instead of the American creed, Black Lives Matter instead of, say, the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars, and new rituals, holidays, and heroes instead of ones that have been long established and, to this point, uncontroversial.

For sports fans who “just want to watch a game,” the NFL will be an in-your-face assault on the senses. Indeed, the league’s national anthem appeasement is just once piece of a 10-year, $250 million “commitment to combat systemic racism.” As Front Office Sports reports, “To reinforce its 10-year, $250 million commitment to combat systemic racism, the league will promote social justice via on-field signage, decals on player helmets, and in-stadium PSAs.”

The NFL is lucky. Its appeal is so strong, and its brand so powerful, that most of its fans will likely tolerate this pathetic overreach. Other sports, though, haven’t fared so well. Take the NBA, for example, which is about 75% black. As Outkick’s Clay Travis observes: “Last year, worst ratings of all time for the NBA. This year, second worst ratings all time. It’s not a coincidence. They went political. Now they’re trying to, George Costanza-style, pretend it never happened. There was almost zero politics this year.”

Then there’s the Olympic Games, whose opening ceremonies took place today and which will be played sans fans in COVID-conscious Tokyo, Japan. Says Travis: “You’ve got no crowds in the stands at all. The Japanese people overwhelmingly do not want the Olympics to take place. And top sponsors are already pulling out. Add in the huge time difference, and I think there’s got to be a lot of nervousness about what is usually a signature event around the world that brings us all together.”

We’re not sure that taking a knee or otherwise disrespecting one’s flag at the Olympics to protest “social injustice” is the best way to bring folks together. But no one asked us. “The Olympic flame hadn’t been lit here before athletes took a knee to protest social injustice,” reports USA Today. “With women’s soccer competition beginning before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games on Friday, five teams — including the Americans — knelt on the field before the start of their games.”

The Americans then went on to lose their first match in two and a half years, a shocking 3-0 trouncing at the hands of Sweden. Maybe they should’ve been more focused on winning the game and less focused on making a statement.

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