For decades, public sporting events have begun with the United States’ national anthem, a song that has been our nation’s anthem since 1931. The Star-Spangled Banner plays before almost every game, whether it’s in a stadium with tens of thousands of spectators or a small gymnasium with a handful of parents in attendance.
But at the urging of a retired Howard University professor, some NBA teams decided to play the ‘negro national anthem’ (their phrasing) during NBA games played during Black History Month. And according to professor Eugene Williams, the ‘negro national anthem’ is ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’
Williams is hoping that he will be able to convince universities to play the song during their games as well.
According to Eugene Williams, a 76-year-old retiree who lives in Clinton, Maryland, his mission will be ‘accomplished’ if “it’s done in stadiums all over the United States of America.”
He thinks that it will make the players feel better about themselves, and about the game that they’re playing, and he hopes it will “uplift their spirits as it does mine.”
The song began its life as a poem, which was written to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, 1900.
It was written by a civil rights activist, James Weldon Johnson.
In 1905, his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, put the poem to music.
In 1919 it was named “The Negro National Anthem” according to a declaration by the NAACP.
During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the song became a rallying cry and anthem for African Americans fighting for their rights and for equal treatment under the law.
Eugene Williams said that he grew up hearing the song and that he felt it gave him power and strength. He hopes that the song will do the same thing for others.
Williams, who was a professor at the historically black Howard University, seems to think that sporting events are the right place to play songs with racial components to them.
That’s not to say that Lift Every Voice and Sing is a bad song, or that it’s racist. But it’s a song obviously designed to speak to a specific group of people, not all people.
Sporting events are supposed to be inclusive competitions where representatives of different cities, states, or schools compete for glory. The Star-Spangled Banner is played before sporting events to remind those at the event that we’re all one, even though we’re about to encourage our team to eviscerate the other team.
Playing a song from the civil rights era does not speak to everyone present, it speaks to a subset.
Further, many athletes being paid ridiculous amounts of money to play a game currently don’t seem to be capable of standing for the national anthem.
It seems silly to play a different anthem for them instead.
Where does this end, though? What about Irish-Americans? How about Asians who are playing basketball professionally or in universities?
Will sporting events begin to play the Wearing of the Green at sporting events during March, as it is Irish History Month?
If athletes aren’t proud of what they’re doing, perhaps they should do something else with their lives and their time.
If they can’t find meaning and ‘power’ in the fact that they’re making ridiculous amounts of money to play a game, perhaps they should find other work.
The NBA shouldn’t need to pander to athletes by playing music from the civil rights movement, and though it may be ‘inclusive,’ it just seems silly to play the music.
Maybe instead of demanding that the ‘negro national anthem’ be played at NBA games, Eugene Williams should demand that the athletes playing be better citizens of the United States, for example, or that they be better role models to their communities.
Heck, maybe he should simply demand that they be better educated, as he is a former college professor and holds a doctorate.
Currently, the NBA has a ‘one-and-done’ policy, requiring that before a player ever joins the NBA, they must be 19 years old.
Because of this, many NBA hopefuls attend college for a single year, then join the NBA when they’re 19.
This means the NBA actively courts uneducated individuals and even encourages their players to utilize college for a year as a ‘stepping stone’ to playing professional basketball.
But obviously, for Eugene Williams, playing the “Negro National Anthem” before or during games is the real achievement.