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Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018
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A solution for the national anthem standoff

We have reached a point of no return. The problem appears unsolvable. We are divided and permanently so.

All because of something that is supposed to bring us together.

The national anthem.

We cannot have civil conversations. We are talking through one another, past one another. We refuse to hear the other side and are convinced that no one is hearing our side.

The more we talk, the more frustrated we get and the more divisive the issue becomes. We can't even agree on what the protest and controversy are about.

For some, it's about racial inequality. For others, it's about the military and the flag.

These desperate times call for a desperate measure. And, right now, we desperately need peace and harmony. Here's how we get it:

Stop playing the national anthem before sporting events.


Radical idea, I know. I also know that some will see that as being disrespectful. Because right now, everyone in this conversation is waiting — and, in some cases, wanting — to feel disrespected.

But, seriously, think hard about this. It's an odd custom, this playing the national anthem before a sporting event.

When we go to the movies, we don't play the anthem before the sneak previews. If I go see Springsteen or Jay-Z in concert, they don't play the anthem before they come out. I don't sing it before dining at a fine restaurant.


What's the point, anyway?

Before this controversy started, for most people, the national anthem was nothing but a perfunctory gesture done more out of habit than national pride.

Before players started kneeling or sitting, did you ever look closely at them during the anthem?

They rock back and forth. They stare at the ground. They pop bubbles with their bubble gum. And you know darn well that they were giving no thought to rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air. They were thinking about their opponent and the game they were about to play.

Meantime, in the stands, fans are just as distracted. We're watching the players, thinking about the first bite of our hot dog and reminding ourselves not to forget to stop for milk on the way home.

Certainly, there have been times when playing and singing the national anthem has unified us, such as when our country has been vulnerable or frightened, facing a crisis or war. And, in those moments, it can be a powerful.

Like when Whitney Houston sang it as well as anyone ever has, at Tampa Stadium before Super Bowl XXV as we entered the first Gulf War. Like when stadiums across the country sang in the days following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

But the song that once united us is now dividing us.

On one side, there are smart reasonable people with good hearts and good intentions who honestly believe that kneeling or sitting for the national anthem is disrespecting the flag and the military.

On the other side, there are smart reasonable people with good hearts and good intentions who honestly believe that kneeling or sitting for the national anthem is about bringing attention to the racial divide in this country.


And the two sides are never going to come to an agreement on this. We can't even agree to disagree. We just yell louder.

So how about we try this: no more national anthem.

Instead, before the game, we ask for 20 seconds of silence.

You can stand. You can kneel. You can sit. You can stand on your head. Just please be quiet. And during that time, you can think about whatever you want.

You can think about the flag. You can think about the military. You can think about your race. You can think about senseless tragedies like the shootings in Las Vegas. You can think about God. You can think about hot dogs.

Or you can think about nothing at all.

What's ultimately going to happen is the NFL, like the NBA, is going to demand players stand for the anthem. While displays of protest will end, the bitter feelings about it will not.

A possible alternate solution is to have players remain in the locker room for the anthem. They used to do that in the NFL anyway until 2009, around the time the Pentagon starting paying sports leagues millions to celebrate the military.

But, if we're really serious about welcoming everyone's opinions and not disrespecting anyone or anything, let's set aside a few moments before each game to allow every individual to think about what they want.

And let's do it without any songs being played.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones

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