Former US national men’s soccer team coach Bruce Arena has questioned whether the “The Star-Spangled Banner” – the American national anthem – should be played at professional sporting events in the States.
Speaking to ESPN’s Taylor Twellman, Arena said, “I think it puts people in awkward positions.
“We don’t use the national anthem in movie theaters and on Broadway, other events in the United States and I don’t think it’s appropriate to have a national anthem before a baseball game, an MLS game.”
Arena added: “You think about it in Major League Soccer, most of the players that are standing on the field during the national anthem are international players, they’re not even Americans.
“So why are we playing the national anthem? With all due respect, I live in the greatest country in the world but I think it’s inappropriate.”
‘I was in tears’
“The Star-Spangled Banner” started as a poem, called “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” It was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 during the War of 1812. The stanzas recount the Battle of Baltimore, a days-long siege between British and American forces.
The poem was set to a tune called “The Anacreontic Song,” which was composed in the late 1700s by a man named John Stafford Smith. The song was linked to the Anacreontic Society, which was an amateur musician’s and singer’s club named after the Greek poet Anacreon.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t actually adopted as the official anthem of the US until 1931, though it was already popular and had already been used by several American institutions by then.
“As the national team coach at times with the national anthem I was in tears,” said Arena, who is the New England Revolution coach, but coached the US national soccer team on two separate occasions.
“Honored to represent the United States at World Cups and international matches. And I think playing the national anthem is clearly appropriate at those levels.
“However, I question why we’re playing national anthems at professional sporting events in our country.”
The tradition of playing the “Star Spangled Banner” at sporting events dates back to 1918, when a live band played the song during the seventh inning of the first game of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox.
The country was at war, and it had just been announced that baseball players would soon be drafted into the army.
This game took place in Chicago, but the Red Sox mirrored their opponents in playing the song in the sequential games.
Before long, it was played at a number of sporting events and by the end of World War II, NFL Commissioner Elmer Layden had ordered that the song would be played at every football game.
Playing the national anthem at sporting events has been seen as an opportunity to celebrate the US’s freedom and to honor the sacrifices of those who had protected it.
Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem is not the first time there has been controversy surrounding the anthem at sporting events.
In 1954, Baltimore Orioles general manager Arthur Ehlers bemoaned fans he believed were disrespecting the anthem by talking and laughing during the song.
Arena said he supports people’s right to kneel.
“Today I understand why people are kneeling,” he said. “We saw it with the women, we saw it in the NFL and I think if they’re respectful, it’s appropriate.”
Speaking about his response to the Black Lives Matter movement, Arena added, “As an American, and a white American, I’m embarrassed by the situation that in 2020 we have this kind of racism in our country.
“It’s not an accident that some of these murders are happening. There’s prejudice and there’s racism and this is a time when people have got to step and defend what’s right.”