The Invented Tradition of Standing for the National Anthem

Emily Lamm

The invention of tradition is no new concept to America or any other part of the world. The process of thinking something has always been happening since the beginning of time has always been a part of culture and will continue to be one long into the future. For example, Thanksgiving was not a national holiday, or a holiday at all until President Lincoln declared it to be so, and cranberry sauce was not even on the table until Ocean Spray advertised it as the “special Thanksgiving treat” in the 1940’s. Invented tradition also lies within American sports. Standing for the flag was not an event until World War I when President Herbert Hoover signed that “The Star Spangled Banner” was America’s National Anthem.

The Star-Spangled Banner

Invented tradition was, ironically enough, an invented term by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. They wrote a book called, The Invention of Tradition, which was first published in 1983. The book is about the term, “invented tradition” and how it relates to society. In the book Hobsbawm and Ranger state that an invented tradition’s purpose is to inspire nationality in the peoples of a nation, thereby making them more loyal, cooperative, and forgiving in response to this kindled strength of tradition. Which, and I will go into more detail about this later, is why Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during “The Star Spangled Banner” was such a big deal. Standing for the national anthem is an invented tradition in American sports, which implies that by kneeling for the national anthem, Kaepernick is threatening the belief of nationalism that the national anthem was meant to inspire.

Another book that deals with invented tradition and the communities of football fans everywhere is one called Imagined Communities. This book was also published in 1983 by Benedict Anderson and describes the idea of invented communities. Invented communities are communities of people that are not connected but believe they are through a common feeling. Such is the case with sports fans. None of them are connected accept through their allegiance to a specific team. If football was to be taken away, there would be no reason for all of these people to remain in that community. This affects Kaepernick because his kneeling disturbed the imagined football communities. To the fans, this act of kneeling is disruptive to their perceive community and therefore they revolt against the thought of it.

As previously stated, standing for the national anthem was an invented tradition that came into play during the course of World War I, specifically in 1931 when “The Star Spangled Banner” was signed on to be America’s national anthem. A TIME article states that the first record of standing for “The Star Spangled Banner” happened in 1862, but because it cost so much they decided not to do it again unless it was a special event. The only other time that the song was played for a sporting event before it was signed into being the national anthem was in 1918 for the World Series. Once it was named the country’s national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner” was only consistently played at every football game towards the middle of World War II.

History.com states a similar case; however it goes into more depth about why the song was played in the first case. In 1918, at a Red Sox game, spirits were at an ultimate low because of a bomb that had gone off the day before and because the US government had just announced that it would soon begin drafting baseball players to fight in the war as well as the civilians. During one of the innings the band started to play and all of the players stopped playing to take off their hats, put their hands over their hearts, and face the flag. After the song was done the whole audience erupted into applause and spirits were lifted once again. This lifting of spirits was such a success that they continued to play “The Star Spangled Banner” for every game for the rest of the series; however, as previously stated, the cost was too much to play full time so it was saved for the special events like the World Series.

This is why standing for “The Star Spangled Banner” is an invented tradition; it has not been a tradition for as long as it feels, and it was specifically designed for the purpose of lifting spirits during wartime and inspiring nationalism in the people and players, which is why, when Colin Kaepernick kneeled, the act cause such an outrage. He was seen as not only kneeling, but many took it as an attack on themselves, the country, traditions, soldiers, and a whole host of other images that “The Star Spangled Banner” is meant to inspire.