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The NFL was political spectacle long before Kaepernick.

Before there was Colin Kaepernick, there was Hank Williams Jr. In the waning days of the Reagan era, Williams vandalized one of his hits, “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” to produce a football broadcast theme song, “All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night.” That ghastly little ditty was the opener...
Time: 09:26     Date: 26.05.2018
Last US News - Opinion: The NFL was political spectacle long before Kaepernick. NY Post 24 - US News

In the waning days of the Reagan era, Williams vandalized one of his hits, “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” to produce a football broadcast theme song, “All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night.”

That ghastly little ditty was the opener of “Monday Night Football” until a 2011 “Fox & Friends” appearance during which Williams compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and labeled him an “enemy.” When Gretchen Carlson challenged him, Williams insisted: “I’m telling you like it is.” He would later expand the indictment: “We’ve got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the US — and we hate him!”

ESPN distanced itself from Williams and replaced his theme song with one from the anodyne Carrie Underwood.

These things happen regularly and predictably. In 2003, Rush Limbaugh was pressured into resigning from “NFL Sunday Countdown” after making unwelcome observations involving Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb — ESPN apparently having been blindsided by the fact that the controversial political commentator it hired produced controversial political commentary.

In March 2017, Colin Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers after a long dispute over his kneeling during the national anthem, an act of protest against police shootings of black men. He said he would stand for the anthem when “that flag represents what it is supposed to represent.”

Three months after Kaepernick became a free agent, with talk radio still raging about player protests, a funny thing happened: ESPN announced it was bringing back Hank Williams Jr. and his rowdy “Monday Night Football” theme song. The “real” national anthem was back.

Americans are having a strange little spasm of nationalism, and Hank Williams Jr. is its Homer. Williams’ work is jam-packed with the themes that have dominated conservative political thought since the rise of Donald Trump and the populist-nationalist tendency for which he stands: anti-urban, anti-elite, sometimes apocalyptic, steeped in white underclass dysfunction, marked by a vague evangelical fervor that is strangely at peace with all manner of vice and, inevitably, prone to voicing to batty conspiracy theories on cable-news programs. ESPN knows: This is Hank Jr.’s moment.

It isn’t Colin Kaepernick’s.

Sporting events have long been an attractive venue for protests, simply because they draw large crowds. But professional sports, especially football, have become cultural and political flash points in the post-9/11 era.

The pro-football establishment… has done far more than Kaepernick to turn the sport into a political spectacle

The singing of the national anthem once was a simple exercise in patriotism, one of those little civic ceremonies that play the same role in a republic that royal pomp plays in a monarchy. And it was a fine thing to see President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium in October 2001. President Bush had many defects, but he was aces as a presidential pitcher.

Those post-9/11 moments quickly mutated and evolved into the current bizarre display of uniform fetishism (mainly military uniforms, but also police uniforms), fighter-jet flyovers and the “paid patriotism” theater in which sports franchises charged the Pentagon millions of dollars to participate in public-relations gimmicks such as “surprise” homecomings for military personnel.

Opposed to these DoD-sponsored patriotic spectacles at sports events, Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake compiled a joint report and it is amusing: “Challenger, the free-flying American bald eagle, soared through the air during the anthem and cheerleaders were dressed in their military finest. Finally, during halftime, Texans mascot TORO rappelled with members of the military from the rafters to the field.” Teams charged the military to allow soldiers to sing “God Bless America” before games, while the National Guard arranged to have servicemen march out gigantic flags and perform an ever-more-contrived nationalist liturgy during the national anthem — paying sports teams just under $7 million for the privilege.

One might reasonably argue that monetizing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in this grotesque way is more disrespectful than anything Kaepernick and his fellow protesters have done in demanding the United States live up to its ideals.

On Wednesday, the NFL announced a new policy of fining teams whose players decline to stand for the national anthem and empowering the teams to fine those players in turn. This is heavy-handed and probably will prove foolish. The pro-football establishment — not only the NFL itself but also its media partners — has done far more than Kaepernick to turn the sport into a political spectacle. It’s simply that the nationalist pageantry that is appealing in Trump country is welcome, while the Black Lives Matter-inspired displays of Kaepernick et al. are not.

The cynic will suspect that this is not about a song written by Francis Scott Key or Hank Williams Jr. but rather the one Pink Floyd had a hit with in 1973: “Money.”

At the NFL, patriotism is for sale. It’s also available for rent.

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