National Anthem (copy)

The National Anthem is played last fall prior to the first football game at Sauk Prairie High School's brand new state-of-the-art field turf stadium. A Republican proposal would require the Anthem at all sporting events supported by public funds. 

Recently, as the representative of the 80th Assembly District, I voted in the Committee on State Affairs of the Wisconsin State Legislature on Assembly Bill 226 (AB226) which essentially declares that no sporting event may be held in a venue constructed at least in part with public moneys, unless the event is preceded by the playing or singing of the national anthem. My initial thought was “who opposes performing the national anthem?”

At the public hearing the bill’s authors stated up front that it was offered in response to Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Cuban, in order to avoid the controversy of players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality, stated that the Mavericks would no longer be playing the national anthem before games. The NBA, which has been supportive in allowing players to protest freely in a way they see fit, overruled Cuban and required that it continue to be played.

The bill’s authors also shamed the Green Bay Packers for failing to come out of the locker room prior to the anthem being performed at a game last season. How AB226 addresses these issues is unclear, but here we are, enacting a bill which has no effect on Mark Cuban’s or the Packers’ actions, no responsible authority or enforcement agency named, and no defined penalty for failure to uphold. In my view, the authors offered this bill in a misguided attempt to protest protesters.

This bill is not only silly. It has potential unintended consequences, and it shows how out of touch the GOP is in assessing the priorities of Wisconsin citizens.

Enactment of this bill will mean that every “sporting event” held on school, city, county, or state park property must be preceded by the playing or singing of the national anthem. Just a quick run-through of the local newspapers in my district today mentions: tennis, golf, trap shoot, volleyball, football, baseball, softball, soccer, track, cross country, and swim. How about racket ball, pickle ball, rugby, Nordic walking, marathons, skiing, skating, wrestling, gymnastics, hockey and a number of others that weren’t mentioned and I didn’t think of? Does “sporting event” include practice or pick-up games, or impromptu sporting activities by adults?

There is no definition of playing or singing in the wording of this statute. Does one person whistling or humming softly in a corner of the venue serve the purpose?

Must playing the anthem be done on instruments present at the event or will a pre-recorded version (with or without amplification) suffice? Whose responsibility will it be to carry out this law? What are the consequences when there is a failure to meet the requirement? Why stop at sporting events? What about the theatre or vocal or instrumental performances or the Science Olympiad or the math team competition? All of these questions point to a clear reality that this bill will certainly cause more problems than it will fix.

The dilemma, of course, is to not appear unpatriotic. A “yes” vote would be easy and would probably satisfy those of us who view the singing or playing of the national anthem as a perfectly worthy display of our patriotism and respect for the flag, our country, and those who have served. However, those who remember their history lessons or have lived long enough to simply remember, are aware that forced nationalism or forced patriotism can lead to much more dire circumstances seen at the geneses of fascist and authoritarian regimes.

The Jan. 6 assault on our nation’s Capitol building, incited by the outgoing president, reminded us that our democracy can be fragile, and is not to be taken for granted.

In addition, since the Colin Kaepernick controversy, the anthem has become a political battleground, beginning a more intense discourse of acknowledging and addressing racial inequality in our country. This is a reality whether some like it or not. The introduction of this bill seems to somehow ignore and exacerbate this problem all at the same time. The intentions of this bill seem harmless at the surface, but under further examination, they become less and less genuine.

Having all of these concerns prior to the committee vote, I felt that at the end of the day, this bill may not have a very far-reaching effect and decided to vote “yes” with my colleagues during the executive session. In the days immediately following I experienced genuine remorse. I realized when the bill was scheduled for a floor vote that I could not support it after all and ultimately voted “no” on final passage.

I write this to bring clarity to my changed vote, but more importantly, I share this with you to indicate what Republicans in the Wisconsin State Assembly have obviously determined to be a higher priority than a addressing the pandemic, and working across the aisle to pass a budget that will provide essential needs for our citizens and families like education, healthcare, economic recovery, and jobs.

It is long past time the majority party get back on track and realign their priorities to match those of the people.

Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mount Horeb, represents the state's 80th Assembly District.

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