DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And we are trying out something new with our Wednesday sports segment. We're taking questions from you, our listeners. This month, we asked, what's been on your mind as you have watched athletes bring social activism onto the field, like, of course, football players who've been kneeling during the national anthem? And we got hundreds of questions. Many of you asked some version of this question from Neil Nye (ph) of Evanston, Ill.
NEIL NYE: Why do we have the national anthem at sporting events at all? What is the connection?
GREENE: OK, well, to answer that, we spoke to Marc Ferris, who wrote the book "Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story Of America's National Anthem." Hearing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at sporting events is actually about as old as the anthem itself, according to Ferris. We know it happened as early as the 1860s, though Ferris says it wasn't all that common.
MARC FERRIS: You had to hire a band, and that was expensive. And they only played it on special occasions. It was during World War II that it became an every-game phenomenon, in large measure due to the gravity of the situation, but also due to the fact that they now had sound systems, and they could amplify a singer, play a recording or have an organist play. And so when we declared World War II in December 1941, then the season started 1942, and so that really is when all the teams adopted it.
GREENE: OK, author Marc Ferris does point out that there were at least several national anthem protests during the Vietnam War years, and that brings us to our next question from Andrew Gomez (ph) of Washington, Pa.
ANDREW GOMEZ: Do players have any legal power in court over coaches and owners if they are benched or fired for protesting?
GREENE: OK, interesting. Do athletes have legal recourse if they are punished? Well, we asked Kim Wehle. She is a law professor at the University of Baltimore.
KIMBERLY WEHLE: The answer, really, No. 1, depends on the terms of their contract. So there are federal laws that protect speech in the private context if it's related to your employment, but you can make an agreement, sign a contract that essentially waives those rights. So the first question would be, in the collective bargaining agreements that binds these players' terms of employment with these football teams, does it essentially waive the other federal labor law protections?
But my understanding is, it's pretty vague, and that's not clear one way or the other. And so I think a player could say, listen, we are, together, engaging in collective speech by doing this as multiple players - right? - together in this context, and therefore, there are federal labor laws that protect us and our ability to do that.
GREENE: That was constitutional law professor Kim Wehle. Now, many of you had questions along the lines of this next one.
RUSS OLSON: Hi, this is Russ Olson (ph) from Spokane, Wash., and I was wondering, is there an example of athletes actually having a positive impact on a social or political change in America?
GREENE: To answer that, we reached Dr. Louis Moore. He is a history professor at Grand Valley State in Michigan. Moore says athletes played a big role in the civil rights movement, including a milestone that involved pro football players.
LOUIS MOORE: Roughly 22 black players in 1965 boycotted the All-Star Game in New Orleans when they felt that there was too much racism in the city. The game moved to Houston. The - and New Orleans Saints is trying to get a franchise, and the NFL made them integrate that city before they got a franchise.
So the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana had to promise NFL that they would get rid of racism. And the reason why I bring that up is to suggest that NFL organizations and teams, if they wanted to, could do something about racism in their cities.
GREENE: All right, learning that history there from Dr. Louis Moore, who is answering one of your questions about sports and activism - and we're going to answer more listener questions next month on a different sports topic. We'll keep you posted on the broadcast and also keep you posted on Facebook and Twitter. You can follow us - @MorningEdition.
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