How Did The National Anthem Get To Be A Mainstay Of Sports In The First Place? How did the national anthem become a hallmark of sporting events and when did athletes start using it as an opportunity for protest?
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How Did The National Anthem Get To Be A Mainstay Of Sports In The First Place?

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How Did The National Anthem Get To Be A Mainstay Of Sports In The First Place?

How Did The National Anthem Get To Be A Mainstay Of Sports In The First Place?

How Did The National Anthem Get To Be A Mainstay Of Sports In The First Place?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/492599463/492599464" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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How did the national anthem become a hallmark of sporting events and when did athletes start using it as an opportunity for protest?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Colin Kaepernick is still not standing for the national anthem. The 49ers quarterback is protesting racial injustice and police violence. Critics say he's being disrespectful and unpatriotic. But he's far from the first to protest during the song. There have long been demonstrations during the anthem and controversy about the way "The Star-Spangled Banner" itself has been played. Marc Ferris wrote a history of the national anthem and how it came to be a mainstay of American sporting events, starting with a baseball game.

MARC FERRIS: The first documented time that we know the song was played at a sporting event is in 1862 in Brooklyn. But the thing is, you had to hire a band. That was expensive, so it was only for special occasions - opening day, holidays - up until the time of World War II, where sound systems come in, so they could play a recording. And thus, they started to play it before every game.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Ladies and gentlemen, our national anthem.

FERRIS: And that spread into other sports - and professional football.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FERRIS: In the 1950s, the Baltimore Orioles, of all teams, decided that playing "The Banner" before every game cheapened its impact. The general manager at the time decided that he was going to only play it during special occasions.

The Chicago Cubs owner felt the same way. And he did not play "The Banner" before every game until the '60s, during the Vietnam War. And even in the 1960s, the Chicago White Sox experimented with substituting "God Bless America."

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CHURCH ORGAN ALL STARS SONG PERFORMANCE OF IRVING BERLIN'S, "GOD BLESS AMERICA")

FERRIS: They took polls, gauged audience reaction. And they decided to scrap it in favor of "The Banner."

Then in October 1968, Jose Feliciano...

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Jose Feliciano.

FERRIS: ...Blind musician with sunglasses, long hair, acoustic guitar, sitting out in center field does a version - bluesy, bending notes.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE 1968 WORLD SERIES)

JOSE FELICIANO: (Singing) O say can you see by the dawn's early light...

FERRIS: He plays with the melody and comes under absolute fire. People are screaming at him as he walks off.

The first big protest in a sporting event that involved the national anthem is during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: The drama of the race was nothing compared to what happened next. During the medal ceremony...

FERRIS: Two sprinters are standing on the podium, and it's a solemn moment. And "The Star-Spangled Banner" breaks out. And they bow their head and thrust their gloved fists in the air in protest of, very similar to Colin Kaepernick, oppression and racial discrimination. And these guys - being the firsts, being in the '60s, being African-American on the world stage - was just shocking.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIMI HENDRIX: (Playing guitar).

FERRIS: What's interesting is that the NFL - I just learned this - the NFL recommends that players stand for the anthem. They do not require it. And I think it - that gets it right. Americans question. We probe. We try to improve, and we will continue to evolve.

MARTIN: Marc Ferris, author of the book "Star-Spangled Banner."

(SOUNDBITE OF U.S. COAST GUARD BAND PERFORMANCE OF "THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER")

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