Slavery and the national anthem: The surprising history behind Colin Kaepernick’s protest

30 Aug
(Article below from

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 about the American victory at the Battle of Fort McHenry. We only sing the first verse, but Key penned three more. This is the third verse:

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.

The mere mention of “slave” is not entirely remarkable; slavery was alive and well in the United States in 1814. Key himself owned slaves, was an anti-abolitionist and once called his African brethren “a distinct and inferior race of people.”

Some interpretations of these lyrics contend Key was in fact taking pleasure in the deaths of freed black slaves who had decided to fight with the British against the United States.

In order to bolster their numbers, British forces offered slaves their freedom in British territories if they would join their cause during the war. These black recruits formed the Colonial Marines, and were looked down upon by people like Key who saw their actions as treasonous.

As an anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner” has never been a unanimous fit. Since it was officially designated as the national anthem in 1931, Americans have debated the suitability of its militaristic lyrics and difficult tune. (Some have offered up “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful” as alternatives.)

Athletes and the American ritual

The American ritual of the national anthem has always been a crucible for patriotism and protest.

It presents a particularly fraught dynamic for sports stars, since sports events are often so closely tied with the rhetoric of American pride.

When a highly visible opinion comes up against a highly visible symbol, the result is always incendiary.

Around the same time Jackie Robinson was using his achievements to advance civil rights causes, two American Olympic runners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists in a black power saluteduring a medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City as the anthem was playing.

The result was iconic. The reaction was ugly. Racial slurs were hurled at the pair and an article in Time called it a “public display of petulance.”

Today, similar criticisms have been leveled against Kaepernick, a biracial Super Bowl quarterback who was raised by white adoptive parents and made $13 million in 2014.

He was called “spoiled.” He was called far worse in his Twitter mentions.

It’s a lot of ire for a gesture with a strong historical and rhetorical precedent.

One doesn’t even need to dip into iconic moments in history to follow the trend.

Former Cleveland Cavaliers player Dion Waiters refused to be on the court for the anthem in 2014.

And Denver Nuggets player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf courted criticism after he deliberately sat during the anthem in 1996.

In fact, Kaepernick didn’t stand for the first two preseason games of this year prior to Friday’s display.

He wasn’t in uniform, so no one noticed.

Or if they did, they didn’t care.

(End of article)

I understand Colin Kaepernick’s reasons for not standing for the National Anthem.

He has every right as a citizen of the United States of America to not stand for the anthem.

But I don’t believe he has given any serious thought to the repercussions that he will now face for his actions.

I believe that he could do much more to bring to light all the reasons why he disagrees with standing for the anthem, another way.

By being the best quarterback in the NFL; helping his team to win games; maybe winning the Superbowl, receiving millions of dollars for endorsing products.

Then using the wealth that he has acquired to fund movies, programs that will highlight his concerns about the lack of justice for African Americans.

Muhammad Ali had the same concerns about the mistreatment of African Americans during the 1960s.

But nowhere can anyone show that Ali ever disrespected the National Anthem or the flag of the USA.

Another athlete in the past who during the National Anthem was shown praying was NBA’s star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

He cupped his hands in a traditional Muslim prayer style instead of keeping his hands down.

This was deemed offensive.

His career ended prematurely because of his actions. 

Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stands with his teammates and prays during the national anthem before the game with the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, March 15, 1996, in Chicago. Abdul-Rauf, saying that the U.S. flag was a symbol of “oppression and tyranny,” was suspended Tuesday for sitting down during the national anthem. Friday was Abdul-Rauf’s first game back. The Bulls went on to beat the Nuggets 108-87. (AP Photo/Michael S. Green)

Below was a comment in 1996 about MahmoudAbdul-Rauf:

Dan Le Batard, Miami Herald

The NBA, in a stunning show of stupidity, has indefinitely suspended Denver guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf without pay. His crime (was) having an opinion.

In the NBA, you are only allowed to express a divergent view if you are Charles “I Am Not A Role Model” Barkley and it is endorsed by Nike.

So Abdul-Rauf refuses to acknowledge the national anthem and the NBA takes away his livelihood until he starts complying.

This league ought to change its slogan.

The NBA isn’t Fan-tastic.

It’s Comm-unistic.

I couldn’t disagree more with Abdul-Rauf but you must support his right to express those views.

(End of comment)

Unfortunately; 20 years later I don’t believe anything has changed.

I would be greatly surprised if Colin Kaepernick doesn’t suffer the same fate as Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. 

My advise to Colin Kaepernick; is to find another way to fight against the injustice against African Americans.


The Star Spangled Banner is an anthem, that promotes the interest of the Military Industrial Complex




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