Late last month, as the country was only just becoming consumed by Colin Kaepernick, Tom E. Curran of Comcast Sportsnet New England reported that, actually, NFL players did not typically stand for the national anthem until 2009. Somehow this escaped many of us until, uh, Stephen A. Smith highlighted it this morning on First Take.
Responding to a tip from one of his "boys," Smith brought up the fact that until 2009—eight years and a new Presidential administration after 9/11—players weren't on the field for the national anthem and instead generally remained in the locker room. According to Smith's boy (and the researcher at ESPN who checked it), the switch happened "because it was seen as a marketing strategy to make the athletes look more patriotic."
Here's what Curran had to say on August 29th:
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.
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.'
Add in the fact that the NFL received millions of taxpayer dollars from the Department of Defense and the National Guard for patriotic displays, and it puts the entire Kaepernick hullabaloo in a different light. "Fans should have confidence that their hometown heroes are being honored because of their honorable military service, not as a marketing ploy," Senator John McCain, the Vietnam War veteran and P.O.W., saidin a statement last year coinciding with "Tackling Paid Patriotism," a joint oversight report released by McCain and his fellow Arizona Republican Senator John Flake.
Wherever you stand, or kneel, on Kap's protest, it's clear he hasn't disrupted some longstanding NFL tradition of honoring the flag or the troops or has-been rock stars like Kid Rock and KISS who took time out of shows this past weekend to denounce the 49ers backup quarterback. Before leading concert attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance—SO METAL—64-year-old KISS frontman Paul "Starchild" Stanley told the crowd from the stage, "In case you didn't know this tour is called the Freedom to Rock [tour].... A lot of times people that are born free think that freedom is free and it's not. Freedom is only free because there are people willing to sacrifice to keep us free."
We can debate why freedom is free another time, but you just know that when the NFL changed its protocol in 2009 there were plenty of coaches who couldn't stand yet another "distraction." Stephen A. Smith is right. It's paid patriotism and let's be clear—it's not what NFL honchos sign up for. Requiring teams come on the field for the pre-game national anthem wastes a good five minutes that could have been devoted to rally cries, stirring speeches, chalk talks, or the time-honored football tradition of removing helmets and bringing it in to take a knee.