Before You Write About NFL Protests…

NFL Preseason is here and so are player protests. If you're a writer who will be covering the topic, let's talk first.

The NFL’s preseason games started Thursday, and with that came a fresh round of protests by players. Without a doubt, players’ protests, the league’s response and President Trump’s tweets are going to be hot topics.  A lot of you, especially you sports writers, may cover these subjects. Before you do, let’s talk.

Players kicked off the season with actions including taking a knee, raising a fist, and staying in the locker room while the National Anthem was played.

If you’re confused because you thought the NFL put this issue to rest with an anti-protest policy, that’s understandable because they thought so too.

But we all should have known that such a complex issue wasn’t going to be smoothly resolved with an open-and-closed administrative decision.

Earlier this year, the NFL laid down the law of the field by basically giving players the choice to stay in the locker room or stand when The Star Spangled Banner is played. But the player’s association pushed back claiming that not only does that policy violate player’s rights, but it was adopted without consulting the union.

The NFL has put the policy on hold while they once again try to figure out the best way forward.

So why are we discussing that here?

After Thursday night’s protests, President Trump tweeted:


A line in this tweet really stood out to me:

“Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their ‘outrage’ at something that most of them are unable to define.”

Trump is suggesting that most players don’t know what they’re protesting against. The fact is that many people have taken passionate positions on this issue and they don’t know what they’re defending.

Many people don’t not know that the words that they hear year after year are only a fraction of the national anthem. Many others know they’re only hearing a portion of the song but they have never heard or read it entirely.

There are four verses in The Star Spangled Banner, and according to this is how they go:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner—O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The National Anthem’s Background

The Star Spangled Banner was written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and slave owner. The song was chosen as the national anthem in 1916 by Woodrow Wilson, a man described as extremely racist even by the standards of that time.

The poem was officially adopted by Congress in 1931, and it was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover.

Since Key is the man who created the song, it’s prudent to have a little background on him too.

Key built wealth off of the off the backs of slaves and he was not a man who had warm feelings about slaves or enslaved people, Marc Leepson, who wrote a biography on Key says in a CNN article about the song’s meaning.

In fact, Key’s disdain for blacks went far beyond just personal feelings. Key was a blatant racist, who is credited with saying blacks are “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.”

His resume includes trying to stamp out abolitionist movements. And according to Smithsonian magazine, using his public office as the District Attorney for the City of Washington from 1833 to 1840 to defend slavery.

Today, some people insist that any lack of support for the national anthem and how it’s commonly observed means an individual is unpatriotic. Their argument suggests that somehow people are now bucking history and denouncing something that has always been embraced as the epitome this nation’s identity.

That suggestion is not true.

Criticism about the Star Spangled banner trails all the way back to when it was first publicized. This song wasn’t universally praised even in Key’s time.

One complaint, says the Library of Congress, is that the song was too violent.

There were also critics, such as the abolitionists, who pointed to Key’s touting of the “land of the free” while promoting and profiting from oppression. Their argument of a nation celebrating one thing in song while practicing another in day-to-day life is strikes a similar chord with the arguments the protesting NFL players, yet that connection isn’t readily covered.

Whether you take a position on the NFL players’ protests or you write from an impartial angle, you should do it from an informed vantage point.

And keep in mind that there’s a lot of unexplored territory in this debate that can make the conversations more responsible and inciteful. It can also make your writing fresher and more unique. For example, writers could start asking their interview subjects:

Is it all or part of the Star Spangled Banner that you support?

Is it all or part of the Star Spangled Banner that’s supposed to be representative of our nation and military?

Was this song written and selected as the national anthem to celebrate equal rights and freedom for all?

Is the background and spirit of the writer and those who chose this song also a representation of our nation and military?

If you feel the need to separate yourself from the views of the writer, the views of the adopter(s), and/or portions of the song why should all Americans be urged to embrace it?

And at a time when companies are pulling support and ad dollars from controversial and hateful content, which ones would support the Star Spangled Banner or any work associated with Francis Scott Key if he were alive and showing his true colors?

If you can’t find an outlet that suits you. Create your own platform and say it your way.