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ESPN Panelist Unloads on 'War Anthem' Before Games and NFL Buying Into ‘Mythology’ of Fallen Army Soldier


"And when you have military flyovers and all the other military symbolism that goes on in sports, I think you've got a problem."

An American flag is unfurled over the field during the playing of the national anthem at the start of an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. (Source: AP)

If you ask journalism Professor Kevin Blackistone what he thinks about the special and controversial Northwestern University football jerseys adorned with an American flag, he'll tell you the country should nix the playing of a "war anthem" before sporting events and that the NFL has bought into the "mythology" of a fallen soldier that once played for the Arizona Cardinals.


Prof. Kevin Blackiston (Source: University of Maryland)

How do we know? Because that's exactly the rant he went on during a Wednesday afternoon segment of "Around the Horn" on ESPN.

The segment -- which features a panel of sports commentators from around the country -- was part of the show's "Buy or Sell" section where guests affirm whether they would like to "buy" things they like or "sell" things they don't. Host Tony Reali brought up the uniforms and asked each panelist if they would like to "buy" or "sell" them.

Blackstone didn't hold back.

"I'm going to sell it too...," Blackistone said, agreeing with a fellow panelist. "And if you sell this along with me you should also be selling the rest of the military symbolism embrace of sports: whether it's the singing of a war anthem to open every game, whether it's going to get a hotdog and being able to sign up for the Army at the same time, whether it's the NFL's embracing of the mythology of the Pat Tillman story. It's has been going on in sports since the first National Anthem was played in the World Series back in 1917, and it's time for people to back away."

Tillman is the former Arizona Cardinals safety who left the NFL after 9/11 to become an Army Ranger and was killed in a friendly fire incident.

"But there's a difference, though, between calling a football game a 'battle' and singing the National Anthem before a game," Reali fired back.

"You are conflating a war anthem with a simple game," Blackistone reiterated with emphasis. "And when you have military flyovers and all the other military symbolism that goes on in sports, I think you've got a problem."

He received no points from Reali for his comments (although he did go on to "win" the game):

This isn't the first time Blackistone -- who teaches at the University of Maryland and used to write for the likes of the Dallas Morning News -- has made such an argument.

In a February 2011 column during the end of his stint with AOL, he laid out his argument.

"[I]f our lawmakers don't sing it every day to begin the country's business, spectators of a mere sporting event shouldn't be forced to sit through it, either, especially during the time we are living through right now," he wrote.

"There are, after all, a lot of people out there who argue that they don't want politics to have anything to do with sports. They accuse coaches, athletes and media of disrespecting service men and women in battle by using war metaphors to describe how touchdowns are scored, come-from-behind victories are achieved and adversity is fought through to win a game.

"Yet, those same people don't see a contradiction at rising to their feet at every sporting event to mouth (a 2004 Harris Interactive poll showed most U.S. citizens don't know the National Anthem's lyrics) words that came to Francis Scott Key as he watched U.S. soldiers at Baltimore's Fort McHenry raise a huge American flag to celebrate surviving bombardment from British forces during the War of 1812."

But it's not that he's against all forms of patriotism before game -- just the "war" ones.

"Whether 'The Star-Spangled Banner' is played doesn't have anything to do with patriotism, either," he says later in his 2011 column before suggesting songs like "America the Beautiful" or "God Bless America."

"Truth is, so-called or codified national patriotic songs like 'The Star-Spangled Banner; on the sports menu aren't about patriotism as much as they are about commercialism and public relations," he added.


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