It’s a tribute to the NFL’s ability to drape itself in the flag that nobody even realizes that – prior to 2009 – players being on the field for the national anthem wasn’t even standard practice.
Regardless of where one stands RE: Colin Kaepernick deciding to sit out the “Star-Spangled Banner” one shouldn’t be misled into thinking this is a longstanding tradition Kaepernick is sitting out.
(For the record, I believe it’s his right to sit, stand or turn cartwheels, but the point he wanted to make about the oppression of blacks has now been hijacked and we’re in a loud debate about whether or not players have a right to express themselves).
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed this morning the practice began in 2009, adding, "As you know, the NFL has a long tradition of patriotism. Players are encouraged but not required to stand for the anthem.
Not that there aren’t those in the league who won’t try to have you believe that Kaepernick is bucking decades of tradition.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher spoke in terms that made it seem like his teams have been customarily standing for the anthem before games for a long time rather than it being just for the past seven seasons.
“I would be very, very surprised if I had one of our players do that, particularly because of the respect that we have shown, not only this year, but since our time in St. Louis and my time going way back for the national anthem,” Fisher said.
Fisher’s been in the NFL as a player and coach for 35 years. And – while it’s not only possible but likely that teams he’s been involved with have paid their respects during the anthem whether they were on display on the sidelines or not – the phrase “going way back” in this context infers a longer standing ceremonial approach to the anthem than really exists.
Players have been on the sidelines for then anthem prior to select games – Super Bowls, post 9/11 tributes, etc. and perhaps teams such as Fisher’s Rams, Titans, Oilers and Bears had their own customs that included routinely being on the field for the anthem. But it’s worth whispering into the hysteria that, “Hey, standing en masse just started seven years ago.”
Fisher also said, “We have an organizational philosophy that has been in place for a long time, with respect to the anthem. I think it’s a special event and it’s something that should be respected and that’s my opinion.”
I share that opinion. I don’t, however, share the opinion that seven seasons is a long time.