Just when it seemed that the biggest controversies in football consisted of the Washington Redskins being criticized for having a “racial” team name and the Miami Dolphins dealing with accusations of bullying by suspended guard Richie Incognito, along comes ESPN analyst Kevin Blackistone, who charged on Wednesday that the “Star-Spangled Banner” is nothing short of a “war anthem” that should not be played before any sports event.
During a segment of the cable television network's Around the Horn weekday program, the frequent guest also stated that the national anthem was first played “in the World Series back in 1917” and asserted “it's time for people to back away” from the beloved song.
While commenting in the “Buy or Sell” portion of the show, Blackistone said he would sell “the military embrace of sports” and added his fellow commentators should do the same for several reasons.
Those include "whether it’s the singing of a war anthem to open every game, whether it’s going to get a hot dog and being able to sign up for the Army at the same time, whether it’s the NFL's embrace of the mythology of the Pat Tillman story” in which the professional football player left his career and enlisted in the U.S. Army in June of 2002 in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was killed by “friendly fire” on April 22, 2004.
The guest's comments led host Tony Reali to ask Blackistone about the difference between “calling a football game a 'battle'" and "singing the national anthem before a game.”
“You are conflating a war anthem with a simple game,” the guest shot back. “When you have military flyovers and the military symbolism that goes on in sports, I think you’ve got a problem.”
The clash began when Reali asked the panelists what they thought about Northwestern University's decision that its football team would wear red, while and blue helmets and jerseys designed by the Under Armour company “to honor America and the Wounded Warrior project” in the Wildcats' Nov. 16 game against Michigan.
Reali added that the American flag-based design had come under great scrutiny since several people were unhappy with its “blood spatter effect” and charged the university with “desecrating the flag.”
The university responded that the “blood spatter” was actually “a faux-weathered look” and that people who see anything else are “misinterpreting” the design.
Sports columnist J. A. Adande was the first to comment on the controversy. He stated:
Well, if it makes people uncomfortable, thoughts of war should make people uncomfortable. There’s nothing comforting about war. And utilizing the flag in the uniform, we’ve seen that in baseball caps, we’ve seen that in other uniforms, so that’s nothing new.
It actually bothers me that nothing says Northwestern on the helmet.
After Adande's choice to “sell” the uniforms, Blackistone -- an alumnus of that university -- said he agreed with his fellow panelist's decision.
“In this case, you would not wear the uniforms,” Reali said.
“Absolutely not!” the panelist replied.
Frank Isola, a sports reporter for the New York Daily News, then said:
I don't actually mind the uniform. I would take away the blood splatter. I don't like that, but I think they're doing it for a good cause, which is important.
Even though everyone seems to have an alternative uniform, at least this is something where they're trying to draw attention to the Wounded Warriors, and the donations should be something that helps.
“I agree with you, Frank, about the donation to the Wounded Warriors. There's nothing but great things to be said about that,” noted Jackie MacMullan, a freelance sportswriter. “But I absolutely sell these uniforms because the blood splatter, to me, it just sends the wrong message. It makes people uncomfortable, and it makes people squeamish.”
As NewsBusters has previously reported, this isn't the first time a guest on an ESPN program said something inappropriate.
On December 14, 2012, the network fired analyst Rob Parker for criticizing Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III for being engaged to a white woman and “possibly being a Republican.”
Then in mid-July, ESPN hired disgraced newsman Keith Olbermann despite the fact that he was fired from both MSNBC and Current TV. While claiming his main topics will be sports and not politics, he stated: “We start from the point of view where my opinion isn't only respected but solicited.”
A month later, the network fired another contributor, Hugh Douglas, after he denounced co-host Michael Smith as an “Uncle Tom” and a “House N-----.”
The channel's rough record of hiring and firing analysts makes me wonder why Keith Olbermann is still working there. Of course, it's not even been three months since he's been on the job so perhaps we should just wait.