At the risk of some criticism, I am not always respectful during the national anthem, especially at home games.
We take a lot of pride in our pre-game presentation at M&T Bank Stadium. For our preface to these and our pre-game player introductions, I usually go to the field or to the WBAL/98 Rock radio booth. There, I can sense how loud the crowd is and how up they are for that game. By the time I make it back to my seat in the press box, the anthem has started and often is half finished.
That means I'm walking while the anthem is being sung, and when I get to my seat, I place an earpiece in that monitors the telecast of the game to make sure it is working. By then, it's usually time for the Baltimore "Oh" chant near the end of the song.
On the road, my mind usually wanders during the anthem to the opponent and the importance of getting off to a fast start. In Pittsburgh, I always think about the hope of shutting up that loud crowd. And, I always wait for the "Oh" to hear how many fans we have in the stands. At places like Miami, Tampa Bay and Philly, that shout is very noticeable, and it makes me smile.
I know I should have my hand over my heart and be thinking about how fortunate that I live in a country that allows many freedoms and lets us all come together to root for a common cause. In this case, a Ravens' victory.
Of course, those freedoms include our right to speak our minds and protest peacefully. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose the latter when he sat down during the national anthem at the 49ers' game on Saturday and went down to one knee last night in San Diego. He was taking a stand against what he and some others perceive as the racism that exists in this country.
Kaepernick, with the immense attention paid to the NFL and its players, has caused quite a stir. His actions forced his franchise and teammates to react. You can criticize him for disrespecting the flag. You could acknowledge his right to express himself. You could question his timing and the forum he chose. You could be angry for separating himself from the team. All of those opinions have been expressed this week.
What If A Ravens' Player Did This?
We wouldn't be happy. It would force a meeting of team leaders, including owner, president, GM and head coach. John Harbaugh would assemble his "Leadership Council" of players. There would be much discussion. This would be done quickly while the world awaited our response. My guess is that our total emphasis would be selfish – how is this impacting the team?
Clearly, the player, in a game that requires the most teamwork in all of sports, had put the spotlight on himself on the eve of the regular season. He had chosen sacred ground – a game.
My guess is that we would salute the player for taking a stand and ask him if he could find another way and time to express that. We could offer to set up a press event, not on a gameday, to make his beliefs known, assuring him that he would get as much attention as a presidential candidate's speech. Maybe more. We would encourage him to say that his initial thought was to not stand for the national anthem, but explain why he decided, after discussion with teammates and members of the organization, that that would separate him from the team at a very important time. We'd also tell the team what we (head coach and others in the front office) would say publicly on the matter, and likely have the protesting player explain his position to his teammates.
(I'm sure the 49ers thought of all of this, and, my guess is that the player surprised everyone with his original protest.)
My Protest Stories
With all the protests these days, it's like we have returned to the 1960s and the "Power to the People" movement. For those of you who want a quick education on '60s protests, Google "1968 Democratic National Convention," an event that turned Chicago into a war zone. Or, look up Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.
I was the sports editor of the college newspaper at Marquette in the late '60s when the school had a "national anthem" issue. Marquette, under legendary basketball coach Al McGuire, was ranked in the Top 5 in the country. Remember the era, when publications like Time Magazine and* Newsweek* ran cover stories shouting "The Black Problem in America," and "Black Issues on College Campuses."
As the Rolling Stones sang then:
"Everywhere I hear the sound of charging feet, boy
'Cause Summer's here, and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy"
Marquette's 6-foot-6 starting forward, Gary Brell, refused to face our flag during the anthem. It was his protest against the Viet Nam war. I attended the press conference when McGuire was asked about his player's "disgraceful act against our country."
Coach Al looked at the reporter and said, with tongue in cheek, "How come I'm the only coach in America with a white problem?" That made a number of us laugh. The head coach had given the subject some perspective, and he wasn't asked again.
On Oct. 15, 1969, there was a nationwide movement called the "National Moratorium to Stop the War in Viet Nam." Students across America shut down college campuses, and there were protest marches in every major city.
My oldest brother was killed in Viet Nam, and I figured the least I could do in his memory is join the protest march in Milwaukee. There I was, black armband over my letter jacket, parading down Wisconsin Ave.
October 15th was also the first day the NCAA allowed winter sports to start practicing. I had to leave the march to get to my wrestling practice, but first, as sports editor of the school paper, stopped to see Coach McGuire to interview him.
Hustling to the gym, I arrived just in time to see Coach McGuire. He pointed at my black armband and said: "You have a hole in your jacket?" I started to explain about the protest, and he put up his hand and stopped me. "Just ask me about my basketball team. I don't care about your protest right now."
So much for changing the world.
The Ravens' world is a little tired right now. Our charter landed at BWI at around 3:30 this morning. The team has a practice this afternoon and another tomorrow morning. Game plans for the Buffalo Bills game will be reviewed. We're getting close.
Enjoy this Labor Day weekend. Salute our country's great workers, and let's get ready to beat the Bills a week from Sunday.
Talk with you next Friday,
P.S. One other Marquette/McGuire story that relates to the Kaepernick situation. Again, I witnessed this as the sports editor of The Marquette Tribune. George "Brute Force" Thompson, our All-American forward, asked McGuire if there "could be a moment of silence at Saturday's game to acknowledge Black issues across America." Thompson explained that the National Black Student Union had come to prominent African American athletes and asked them to make this request. McGuire looked at George, "You're serious?" Thompson: "Yes sir."
"You want a minute Saturday night?" McGuire said. "Here's what you can do George, you can have 30 minutes right now. You go tell your teammates, practice will start in 30 minutes. You can do any protest you want. Silent or otherwise. You also tell the Black Student Union that Al McGuire, instead of giving you one minute on Saturday, gave you 30 minutes on Wednesday afternoon. Saturday is my night. It's Marquette's night. It's not anyone else's night." With that, Al left the gym, and I assume he came back a half hour later.