When Did NFL Players Start Standing For The National Anthem

When did National Football League begin standing during the Star-Spangled Banner

  • NFL players began standing for the National Anthem in 2009

  • Sen Jeff Flake and Sen John McCain reveled in 2015 that the NFL received at least $6 million for “paid patriotism” between 2011 and 2014

  • In 2016 the NFL paid back just over $700,000 to the taxpayers that was given for “sponsored patriotism”

Despite serious problems in Puerto Rico, homelessness, a veteran suicide rate growing by the day, a renegade presidential administration, and incredibly high international tensions that could spawn a nuclear war at any moment, NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem has taken center stage as the country’s most significant issue.

Those in support of #TakeAKneeNFL understand the players are using a large platform to highlight systematic oppression and injustices that have gone on in America for far too long. Those against it view it as a direct insult to the nation’s military, despite not one player denouncing the country’s armed forces.

Although players have always been allowed to, the practice of standing during the National Anthem has only been in play for eight years and appears to have began as a “paid patriotism” tactic employed by the Department of Defense and the National Guard.

The Star-Spangled Banner

To dig even a little deeper, the Star-Spangled Banner was not deemed the National Anthem by the president until 1916, and not Congress until 1931. However, the military held the song in high regards before it was officially recognized. In 1891, an article in Arthur’s Home Magazine spoke out against the way the American people treated the song, claiming only half the audience would even recognize it when played.

By 1904, standing during the Star-Spangled Banner —which borrowed its melody from “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a British song themed off of womanizing and drinking— was a requirement for military personnel at an event attended by them in their official capacity. The song became an official anthem for the Army and Navy in 1916, and those who played the song in Baltimore were compelled to stand, but no members of the audiences being compelled to stand were mentioned.

In 1918, the New York Times recounted the scene when members of the audience decided to sing along with the Star-Spangled Banner during the usual 7th inning stretch.

As the crowd of 10,274 spectators — the smallest that has witnessed the diamond classic in many years — stood up to take their afternoon yawn, that has been the privilege and custom of baseball fans for many generations, the band broke forth to the strains of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’

The yawn was checked and heads were bared as the ball players turned quickly about and faced the music. Jackie Fred Thomas of the U.S. Navy was at attention, as he stood erect, with his eyes set on the flag fluttering at the top of the lofty pole in right field. First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.

At the time, it would seem the military played a role in the song’s birth, although there is no evidence necessarily pointing towards paid patriotism. Some believe the song was used to help ease people’s fear of going to a baseball game while in the midst of World War I being perceived as unpatriotic. Baseball players would stand and face the music, as people wondered why they were on the ball field instead of the battlefield.

Sponsored Patriotism

Until 2009, football players commonly spent their time in the locker rooms as the National Anthem played. To some, the song was viewed as another distraction for players who could use those last precious minutes for rally cries and speeches.

On April 30, 2015, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) released a statement calling out the New Jersey Army National Guard for paying out $97,500 and $115,000* to the NFL’s New York Jets. The payments were for “‘advertising and promotion’ that fans may have assumed were genuine gestures to thank and recognize soldiers.”

Flake lists the three following “federally funded feel-good moments the Jets were paid for” as:

  • “A videoboard feature – Hometown Hero. For each of their 8 home game [sic], the Jets will recognize 1-2 NJARNG Soldiers as Home Town Heroes. Their picture will be displayed on the videoboard, their name will be announced over the loud speaker, and they will be allowed to watch the game, along with 3 friends or family members, from the Coaches Club.”

  • “Allow 10 NJARNG Soldiers to attend their Annual Kickoff Lunch in New York City. At the luncheon, the Soldiers will have the opportunity to meet and take pictures with various members of the Jets organization for promotional use for recruiting and retention purposes for the NJ Army National Guard.”

  • “Allow NJARNG to participate in the Jets Hometown Huddle charity event in which Jets players and coaches will work side by side with the Soldiers to build or refurbish a community asset. i.e., build a new playground, rehab an existing park, etc for promotional use for recruiting and retention purposes for the NJ Army National Guard.”

Tackling Paid Patriotism

In November of that year, Flake and Sen. John McCain released a 150-page report stating that the DOD paid for patriotic displays in football and other sports from 2011 to 2014.

Contrary to the public statements made by DOD and the NFL, the majority of the contracts — 72 of the 122 contracts we analyzed — clearly show that DOD paid for patriotic tributes at professional football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer games. These paid tributes included on-field color guard, enlistment and reenlistment ceremonies, performances of the national anthem, full-field flag details, ceremonial first pitches͕ and puck drops. The National Guard paid teams for the “opportunity” to sponsor military appreciation nights and to recognize its birthday. It paid the Buffalo Bills to sponsor its Salute to the Service game. DOD even paid teams for the “opportunity” to perform surprise welcome home promotions for troops returning from deployments and to recognize wounded warriors. While well intentioned, we wonder just how many of these displays included a disclaimer that these events were in fact sponsored by the DOD at taxpayer expense. Even with that disclosure, it is hard to understand how a team accepting taxpayer funds to sponsor a military appreciation game, or to recognize wounded warriors or returning troops, can be construed as anything other than paid patriotism.

The entire 150-page report titled “Tackling Paid Patriotism” can be read in full below.


In total, at least $6 million was paid to 16 NFL teams for “patriotic displays” during games or events. In May 2016, the NFL agreed to pay back a total of $723,734 of taxpayer money that went towards “sponsored patriotism.The Pentagon called the actions “a key recruitment tool.”



About Meko Haze

Meko Haze is an independent journalist by day... and an independent journalist by night.

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