Great America

Defending the Right To Stand for the Anthem Is a New Low in the Culture War

The only way to resist that is to turn off the game and refuse to buy pro sports merchandise. To continue watching is surrender.

Imagine taking a time machine back to 2016—say, right when Colin Kaepernick started kneeling for the national anthem. The vast majority of the country is outraged by this demonstration and vows to boycott NFL games. Nearly every other player stands for the anthem and the few who kneel are ridiculed by the fans and press. 

Now imagine the shock on a random 2016 sports fan’s face when you, the time traveler, explain that in just a few years, almost all pro athletes would be kneeling for the anthem and only a handful would stand. The new front in the cultural war is fighting over whether a player has the right to stand, not whether he may kneel. 

This is our bizarro world right now. Conservatives have lost the culture war so badly that they now need to praise players for doing what all players did just a year ago.

The National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League restarted play recently and made sure that they conveyed Black Lives Matter propaganda at the start of every game. 

Most NBA and MLB players knelt for the anthem or showed some other kind of solidarity with BLM. The few basketball and baseball players who did not had to defend that decision to the press. San Francisco Giants pitcher Sam Coonrod was blasted by sports media for standing for the anthem and criticizing BLM. Coonrod said that he only kneels for God. NBC Sports and Sports Illustrated said Coonrod did not offer an acceptable reason for not kneeling and declared him a hypocritical Christian. Sports Illustrated even argued that kneeling was not a protest but a “carefully constructed display coordinated and approved by Major League Baseball.” Thus, all players must kneel.

Major sports outlets attacked Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac for standing for the anthem for similar reasons. Isaac also said his faith compelled him to not kneel for the anthem. Yahoo! Sports said that was nonsense and the claim made Isaac a “token” and a fake Christian. The San Antonio Spurs had to issue a defense of their coach, Gregg Popovich, standing for the anthem. Popovich is an outspoken liberal and Trump hater. 

In contrast, most NHL players are standing for the anthem, likely due to the awkwardness of kneeling on ice in full hockey gear. The first player to kneel wore street clothes and laid his knee down on carpet. The league did its best to show it was woke by displaying “End Racism!” and other platitudes on stadium jumbotrons. But the lack of kneeling was still offensive to the Left and angry fans tweeted out pictures of themselves kneeling to protest the players standing.

The NFL hasn’t started play yet, but teams plan to put social justice slogans in the end zone for the opening week. It’s likely most players will follow the NBA and MLB’s lead in kneeling during the anthem.

In June, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees apologized for saying players should stand for the anthem to show respect for the flag. In his apology, he had to say that kneeling for the flag had nothing to do with the flag and everything to do with social justice. Even Brees’ wife apologized for her husband’s pro-standing comments, stating “we are the problem.”

It wasn’t too long ago when conservatives threatened to boycott sports leagues over kneeling. Now they’re left to defend the handful of players who don’t kneel. 

Conservative outlets celebrated NBA great Charles Barkley’s defense of standing for the anthem. Showing the lopsided nature of this cultural war fight, Barkley had to emphasize the anthem standers were not “bad” people. This is quite the change from when pundits had to claim the kneelers were not America-haters. 

An official Trump campaign account declared this week: “Standing for our national anthem does not make you a racist.” The mere fact that anyone has to make such a basic statement is a loss in itself. No one said it was racist a few months ago.

The sports world has turned entirely against conservatives. The big game is no longer an escape from politics, but a left-wing political rally. When a conservative fan sees “Black Lives Matter” everywhere and watches teams share memes about systemic racism, they get the message loud and clear: we hate you but we still want your money. 

There is an indication that conservatives are turning off the MLB and NBA. Both leagues’ ratings are lackluster, especially considering the dearth of sports for the last five months. But it doesn’t appear the leagues will ditch overbearing social justice messages in an attempt to win these fans back. The players and teams feel it is much more important to advocate for left-wing policy goals than it is to appeal to red-state Americans.

Sports was arguably the one area of the culture that was not completely hostile to conservatives. Every game would begin with the national anthem and the troops would be honored. There were no political messages during the play and Americans could enjoy a respite from polarization. That escape hatch has been replaced with a Black Lives Matter billboard outside of Fenway Park.

While it’s admirable that some players stand for the anthem, the best response for conservatives is to not fawn over the one player who stands. The right call is to turn the game off entirely. Many conservatives may disagree with that stance, saying we shouldn’t let politics invade all aspects of our lives. This opinion ignores how professional sports leagues are already imposing woke politics on our lives. 

The only way to resist that is to turn off the game and refuse to buy their merchandise. To continue watching is surrender in the culture war.