Quite the brouhahas are taking place before NFL games this season. Even the casual observer of football probably knows about a player named Colin Kaepernick who famously decided to not stand and put his hand over his heart during the playing of the national anthem before a game last year. An uproar of protest and some support ensued. Fast forward to the present and we now find entire teams trying to decide if they want to follow suit.
As with any social commentary issue, there are advocates on both sides. Those siding with the players say they have a right to express their feelings in whatever manner they decide (as long as it doesn’t physically harm anybody). Detractors say those who make more money playing in one game than most Americans make in a career should honor the flag since it’s a symbol of the country that gives them that opportunity.
It’s been difficult for many to put into words just what the protest surrounding The Star Spangled Banner is supposed to accomplish. Does that mean they don’t like America? Is just one part of the USA they don’t care for targeted? A particular societal issue?
The lack of specificity got me thinking. Is it possible the kneeling players and their supporters are protesting the song itself? I mean, look at it this way. Our national anthem is very difficult to sing. It’s two octaves in range, and the average person just doesn’t have all sixteen of those notes available to them. Especially when it comes to the part that goes, “And the rockets red glare.” That’s some high stuff to sing. Not many who try to go there successfully make it. Embarrassment ensues, taunts are hurled, feelings hurt, and the enjoyment of a game is lost before it even begins.
So, if that’s the problem, in the interest of quelling the fomenting folderol, maybe we should look at replacing the current anthem. This isn’t a new suggestion. Irving Berlin’s God Bless America has previously been proposed, but since saying the Lord’s Prayer was banned in schools in 1963, there’s been a fear of offending a few people by including God in anything We the People do.
Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA falls into the same politically correct category as Mr. Berlin’s salute. It also contains the lyrics, “I’m proud to be an American,” and I think not being proud is part of the issue with some protestors at the moment. So we may have to put that one aside for the time being as well.
How about America the Beautiful? Nobody’s against spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountain’s majesty, and fruited plains, are they? (Personal aside: Several years ago on vacation in Colorado, where the song was written, my wife and I got up right at sunrise to go for a jog. Just as the first rays of light hit the mountain ranges in the distance, they did indeed appear to be purple. Lyricist Katharine Lee Bates knew what she was talking about.)
Well, no, wait a minute. The chorus contains the line, “God shed his grace on thee.” While the vast majority of citizens really want that to happen, the societal tail is wagging the dog again.
Yankee Doodle Dandy. Now there’s a song we can all get behind, right? George M. Cohan wrote and sang those stirring verses as a patriotic salute, didn’t he? Alas, no. Basically, the words were apparently written during the Revolutionary War by the British, and it’s a direct slam at the upstarts in the colonies. Too bad because it’s easy to sing.
There are other contenders. James Brown’s Living in America, Elvis’ American Trilogy, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, Neil Diamond’s America, and more have been suggested as possibilities. But I’m not sure any of those would meet with universal acclaim either.
Rap is a popular genre. No melody, but a great beat. “We know we’re good, we’re the USA. We’ve got some troubles, but we’ll find our way.” I don’t know how well that version would play at, say, an Olympic gold medal presentation, but it might get a stadium full of fans dancing at football arenas. The players could bust a few moves on the sideline too. And dancing is definitely less likely to cause controversy than social commentary at a ballgame. Moreover, all you have to do is move your hips to dance. No singing required.
©MMXVII. William J. Lewis, III