The playing of the national anthem before sporting events in the United States has become a matter of deep discussion over the last couple of weeks after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to remain seated during the national anthem as a silent protest against “a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Kaepernick’s protest has created a wide array of discussion over the place of the national anthem before sporting events, and has evolved into more athletes across multiple sports using the anthem as a point of silent protest, from more football players to soccer players such as Megan Rapinoe of the US Women’s National Team and Seattle Reign of the NWSL.
Rapinoe’s protest during the Reign’s game last week against the Chicago Red Stars did exactly what she intended.
It's the least I can do. Keep the conversation going. https://t.co/qwfHcqgV6J— Megan Rapinoe (@mPinoe) September 5, 2016
It also instigated a decision by Washington Spirit (NWSL) to play the anthem before the teams took the field last night. Before last night’s game between the Reign and the Spirit, the Spirit sent out a press release noting their decision:
Washington Spirit prevents Megan Rapinoe taking a knee during national anthem by playing anthem ahead of schedule. pic.twitter.com/Oc54ljhFe1— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) September 8, 2016
As you might expect, the Spirit’s intention to “avoid taking focus away from the game” totally backfired, and response to the team’s decision has been predictably volatile. Rapinoe herself was very upset after the game, calling the Spirit’s decision to reschedule the anthem “f***ing unbelievable.”
There are many layers to this issue, and as has been the intention of the high-profile athletes involved, the discussion has started and continues. Consider now what this discussion may turn towards when the NBA preseason starts in a few weeks. It’s already touched the NHL, with Columbus Blue Jackets and Team USA head coach John Tortorella saying that he would bench any players who protested the anthem.
For the NBA, players speaking out in favor of movements towards social justice has become more common, and the speech given during the ESPYs this summer by LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwayne Wade was the highest-profile example of athletes using their position of influence to take a stand for social change.
One wonders, then, if NBA athletes will choose to keep the conversation going when preseason games begin in a little over three weeks, and what teams’ responses will be to such a move. While Kaepernick and Rapinoe are well-known athletes in their sports, if players such as James, Anthony, Paul or Wade were to participate in a similar protest, it would continue to drive a national conversation.
Would any of the young Timberwolves participate in such a protest? What would the response in the Twin Cities be if they did? These are simple considerations, but ones meant to continue to provoke this conversation, a conversation worth having.