Why national anthems should be reserved for international events

San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Sept. 12, 2016. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

I love national anthems. I belted them proudly as if I was a contestant on The Voice when I was an athlete. I stand at attention now, hat off, as a fan. I get emotional when I see my landed-immigrant grandfather sing them at sporting events. I get annoyed when I see others not paying attention during them.

However, I watched people talk, text and order food during the anthem at a recent Blue Jays game in the Rogers Centre and it made me think. When I realized I was in the minority who took the anthem seriously it made me first wonder why people are so outraged when Colin Kaepernick isn’t standing for his anthem when fans routinely take selfies during it. Then I started to think: If we all don’t really care about the anthem as much as we pretend to, why do we still play them at sporting events?

Gone are the times when players are missing from their respective teams because they’re away at war. In those instances it made sense to take time out to honour fighting or fallen teammates. But in 2016 do we still need to hear anthems played before all 82 NBA games, 162 baseball games, 18 CFL games and 16 NFL games? Imagine if they played the national anthem of each tennis player before every match on the ATP and WTA tours. Athletes in individual sports just play their games and they aren’t perceived as disrespectful or ungrateful. At the Olympics your anthem being played is a reward for winning—not just another thing the game-operations team schedules in between the pyrotechnics and the 50/50 draw.

On his weekly radio appearance on 103.5 the Fan in Dallas, Jerry Jones weighed in on why the pageantry of the anthem and presentation of the flag is paramount for the NFL.

“The forum in the NFL and the forum in television is a very significant thing. I’m for it being used in every way we can to support the great contributors in our society and that’s people who have supported America and the flag,” Jones said. “And for anybody to use parts of that visibility to do otherwise is very disappointing.”

With that, the Cowboys billionaire owner joined Boomer Esiason, Trent Dilfer, John Tortorella, Tony La Russa and Dabo Sweeney on the delegation that have used the sanctimony of the national anthem as their vehicle to criticize Kaepernick’s protest. The argument is Kaepernick and other protesting athletes are using the national anthem to bring politics into sports where they aren’t welcome.

In fact, the opposite is true. Kaepernick didn’t decide for the anthem to be played—that decision was made for him. By choosing to play the national anthem at a football game the team is deciding to put politics in the equation. The 32 NFL owners want “The Star-Spangled Banner” to be played because it is good business to have their sport linked with American values. Up until 2009—and outside of marquee games like the Super Bowl—NFL players stayed in the locker room while the anthem was played. The league eventually moved the players to the field during the anthem as a marketing strategy. It’s simply good business for the NFL and its players to be linked with all things America in order to further solidify football as America’s pastime.

Having been involved in live football production, I readily admit it also makes good TV. It’s an opportunity for directors to get shots of players with their helmets off looking emotional, all to a well-sung soundtrack no less. But it’s become so routine it no longer carries much weight. Do you stand in your house when you hear the national anthem being played at a game you’re watching? Of course not.

In Europe they’ve got it right. Teams don’t play the anthem before every Premier League game. Only when players are on international duty do they play the anthem. Which makes sense because in those moments the athletes are representing their country. That’s why you see that passion when Brazil or Italy sing it pre-game in the FIFA World cup. That’s why it’s common for Portuguese fans in and out of the stadium to cry when they hear their anthem played. Because it is saved for special occasions, and its significance remains sacred.

When you watch Canada play at the World Cup of Hockey, be proud to stand for the anthem, hand to heart on your team sweater. Applaud along with the players as they bang their sticks on the ice after the rendition is complete. Because that’s where anthems and sports work best—at international competition, when players are uniting to play for a flag.

But don’t be mad because Colin Kaepernick doesn’t take his national anthem seriously enough for your liking. He’s not the one who chose to play it out for personal gain.

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