The song has some baggage.
Sort-of mostly forgotten 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is, as you are probably aware, now the most talked about football player on Planet Earth. It’s due to his quietly booming protest of “The Star-Spangled Banner” which has now moved beyond him, having proved itself to be a communal heart-to-heart that might have some staying power. Emboldened by and in solidarity with Kaepernick, other athletes took a knee during the national anthem (including the other sort of football star, Megan Rapinoe), or in the case of the Seattle Seahawks, goofily locked arms like a bunch of try-hard hippies trying to have their gluten-free cake and eat it too. Others even raised balled fists, reminiscent of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the heroes of the 1968 Olympics.
The NFL, ever desperate to remain faithful to the agreed upon script of sanctified patriotic bloodsport, and always eager to smoothly euthanize dissent, found itself impotent and marooned in the eye of the storm of an impassioned conversation we’ve been repeating since before the Civil War. Kaepernick’s protest is explicitly a protest of police brutality perpetrated disproportionately against African-Americans, but the hyperbolic backlash it has elicited again reveals the raw fault-lines and chasms that keep the United States so desperately partitioned into clannish blocs of agitated armchair polemicists.
Look, whether you think Kap’s stand (lol) was in good faith, or if you distrust everything anyone in the public eye has ever done, the fact remains that our national anthem, the tune that we take our hats off for, is a song written by a slave-owner (and a proudly anti-abolitionist slave-owner at that!), a man you could, without a hint of exaggeration, label as a white supremacist. What the “love it or leave it” howlers fail to recognize, even if they are gracious enough to allow Kaepernick the “right” to protest as an American, is a significant swath of this country is sincerely uncomfortable and/or offended by this song. Implicit in Kaepernick’s challenge is to refuse to accept the conflation of this song about a naval battle fought in the 19th century with the tender feelings of “THE TROOPS”—who, to hear many scream it, seem basically on the verge of tears whenever anyone lightly criticizes anything about America.
In short, the song has some baggage.
What is abundantly clear is: We need a new anthem to play before sporting events! The single rule to choose a new song to play before sporting events is simple: It must be a song written by an American. So, apologies to Propagandhi fans, as “Stick The Fucking Flag Up Your Goddam Ass, You Son Of A Bitch” does not qualify.
So, what song better represents America than our current placeholder? Obviously, as we’ve seen from the furor, there is no song which could unite 300+ million Americans in anything resembling amicably forged consensus. But dammit, we will try.
“This Land Is Your Land” Woody Guthrie
Let’s start with something easy. Woody’s no right-wing dope. He’s a man of the people and his song is about the physical wonders of America, as well as its idealized inclusive spirit, sort of an appeal to the better angels of America’s existence. Simple, elegant, forthright—this is the sort of song Joe McCarthy would have been suspicious of. Also, Woody’s guitar famously read “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS” which is something almost every American not currently debating eugenics on a Stormfront messageboard can nod approvingly about.
“America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates/Samuel A. Ward
This is clearly a transitional song, mostly aimed at people who still want to listen to a composition clearly written for people with proud boners for America. This song is basically alright, though boring, and it definitely seems to encourage manifest destiny, but at least it wasn’t written by people that thought owning human beings was rad.
“Don’t Tread On Me” by Metallica
This song and the accompanying Thomas Paine snake on the cover of their self-titled album, which saw the thrash-metal pioneers begin the dopey transition into glorified dad rock, pretty much presages the rise of the Tea Party and perhaps even Donald Trump. The song is patriotic enough for any suburban tough-guy who has never mourned a murdered friend—and again, not to belabor the point—but whatever you may think about Metallica, at least they’ve never owned slaves!
Nebraska (the entire album) by Bruce Springsteen
Yes, it would take a long time to get to kick-off, tip-off, and whatever it is called in baseball when the man throws the ball at the other man (40:50 seconds to be exact), but you can’t just choose one song off Nebraska. This record showcases the Boss in a moment of spare and absolutely haunted darkness. This is America. Small town cops, murder sprees, Atlantic City. Can you honestly say some fucking song about the “rockets red glare” is more American?
“Highway to the Dangerzone” by Kenny Loggins
Reagan Democrats and Jill Stein volunteers alike get down to this dangerous ditty. Who is going to object to this? What monster will refuse to feel pride listening to this? Aspiring irony-bros belt this tune out during drunken karaoke sessions and people who can only reach climax whilst reading early Tom Clancy novels weep when they hear it. Truly, it is the Great Unifier.
“Holiday In Cambodia” by Dead Kennedys
Sometimes sports is better if immediately preceded by a four-minute punk song about American war crimes in Southeast Asia. Probably not all the time, but sometimes.
“Winter In America” by Gil Scott-Heron
Hahaha, naw. We aren’t smart enough to appreciate Gil en masse, just yet. Maybe sometime in the future, like in Star Trek times. Still, this is a good song that doesn’t sugarcoat the disaster.
“A Is For Allah” by Yusuf Islam
If songs about the Almighty are your proverbial jam, few are more enlightening than this deeply pious slow-jam by the smooth-as-heck crooner formerly known as Cat Stevens. This will no doubt appease the Religious Right and the heartland types who want to feel God’s presence more explicitly during sporting events. On the other hand, you run the risk of maybe, just maybe, incurring the wrath of xenophobic bigots, or at least people who don’t like alphabet-themed songs.
“Mississippi Goddam (sic)” by Nina Simone
This song pays tribute to the murdered Medgar Evers. Simone, who sang from the guts to unfurl one of our very best American voices, was, long before it was a safe, a fierce vocal advocate for social justice. This was before “social justice” was co-opted by angry guys who hate women and drink Mountain Dew for dinner tried to make it into one of the deadly sins. A potential drawback: people living in Alabama, Tennessee, and/or Mississippi might have their feelings hurt a bit.
“Perseverance” by Hatebreed
This metal-core classic by tri-state area stalwarts Hatebreed is less concerned with the world at large (which to many sports fans is great—the world is dumb!) and more about riling up the various athletes into a murderous rage. Nobody wants Steph Curry’s last thoughts before taking the court to be something about some flag still being there. They want him to be thinking “and the only truth I know is hostility.”
“We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel
It’s true that even Billy Joel hates this song, but from a strictly educational standpoint, our young and impressionable Americans would learn more from this song and it’s severely janky melody than they would from ever listening to our current national anthem. Has anyone yet even figured out what “spangled” means? Billy Joel’s song is dumb, but at least it’s fucking trying.
“Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams
Nice. [Note: Adams is Canadian, so this song doesn’t qualify, but on the other hand, why is Hawaii a state? America does what it wants.]
“America” by Waylon Jennings
Country music artists sometimes seem to believe they have some stranglehold on patriotism, and this song certainly belongs to that tradition, though it’s at least slightly nuanced and not completely about pickup trucks getting stuck in the mud or whatever. It also alludes to the unpayable debt America owes the perpetually erased Native Americans. Though, yeah, he does refer to them as “the red man”, which is…not optimal.
“Out Here Grindin’” by DJ Khaled
Here’s your American Dream. The son of immigrants, Khaled is a true Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story. Employing gusto, gumption, and moxie, DJ Khaled projects almost jingoistic certainty, coupled with WE THE BEST proclamations that bring to mind snug and familiar American Exceptionalism. This song is populated by a diverse cast of characters, just as America itself is, such as Lil Wayne who is from Louisiana, Rick Ross who is from Mississippi, and also some other guys from Louisiana and a bunch of guys from Florida! This song is America. Hard work, boot straps, a lot of bleeped out words, all that good free market shit.
“Gold” by Kiiara
It’s pretty catchy. Seems like something people would like to listen to before a football game. Not to belabor anything but…she…didn’t…fucking…own…slaves.