The Radical History Of Messing With “The Star-Spangled Banner”

In sports, Francis Scott Key’s song has always been a pliable political tool

In case you missed it, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat down Friday night during a pregame performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (Kaepernick did the same thing in his two previous games, but this time reporters noticed.) Asked why, the quarterback responded, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Amidst an uptick in political outspokenness by high-profile athletes, Kaepernick struck a uniquely sensitive nerve. Messing with the national anthem really angers Americans. (Sorry Gabby Douglas!) While the NFL, Players Association, and 49ers supported Kaepernick’s right to protest, bloggers, talking heads, Twitter goblins, and Tony Stewart attacked, claiming the quarterback had no respect for his country, and no reason to complain. The San Francisco police union demanded an apology.

We’ve been here before, debating an American athlete’s anthem etiquette in the context of making a political statement. A month before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Manhattanville College women’s basketball player Toni Smith began turning her back to the flag before games. “The government’s priorities are not bettering the quality of life for all of its people, but rather expanding its own power,” Smith said. “I can no longer, in good conscience, salute the flag.”

Smith, an obscure Division III athlete, became national news, enduring protests and heckling for the rest of the season. News media cast Smith as a traitor, implying her actions helped Saddam Hussein. Smith defended her behavior as patriotic, saying pride isn’t limited to performing an “empty slogan.”

Seven years earlier, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a sweet-shooting Denver Nuggets guard with a quick release, made a similar decision. In the middle of the 1995-1996 season, Abdul-Rauf—who had converted to Islam several years earlier—told the Nuggets he wanted to avoid the national anthem, calling the tradition “nationalistic ritualism,” which the Koran forbids. After sitting down during the anthem later that season, Abdul-Rauf was suspended and forced by the NBA to compromise: He would stand for the song, but could bow his head and cup his hands in prayer.

Newspapers dubbed him a “disgrace.” Boos followed Abdul-Rauf on road trips, hate mail rained, the Nuggets traded him, and soon NBA teams stopped calling. “After the national anthem fiasco,” Abdul-Rauf said in 2010, “nobody really wanted to touch me.” In his first year out of the league, Abdul-Rauf’s Mississippi home was burned down (arson wasn’t ruled out) after being vandalized with Ku Klux Klan symbols.

This rabid defense of “The Star-Spangled Banner” often extends into the absurd. Mere musical re-interpretations have sparked outrage.

Before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series in Detroit, Puerto Rican singer Jose Feliciano performed a bluesy rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the acoustic guitar—pop-styled national anthems weren’t yet a thing. Thousands called the stadium to complain, and radio stations briefly stopped playing Feliciano’s records.

“I wanted to sing an anthem of praise to a country that had given my family and me a better life,” Feliciano wrote in 2011. “A great controversy was exploding across the country because I had chosen to alter my rendition of the national anthem to better portray my feelings of gratitude.”

In each case, claims to a patriotic identity, performed in non-traditional ways during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” offended fans. The argument typically goes that these inappropriate displays of dissatisfaction or difference insult America, like burning the banner itself. This argument typically disregards the possibility of expressing citizenship through accountability, or patriotism—in Feliciano’s case—through altered rendition.

Yet the song itself is an altered rendition. Francis Scott Key wrote the original poem, describing an American victory over British forces in Baltimore during the War of 1812, to the tune of an 18th century British drinking song.

Key, a slaveholding lawyer who prosecuted abolitionists, also originally wrote four verses—the third cheers how “blood has washed out” the “hireling and slave,” referring to black Americans who fought for the British in exchange for their freedom. America altered that part out.

The first high-profile instance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a sporting event came a century later, during Game 1 of the 1918 World Series. The day after the Chicago Federal Building was bombed, seventeen months into World War I, attendance was low. As a promotional stunt, the Chicago Cubs scheduled a military band to play Key’s song during the seventh-inning stretch. The performance drew the crowd to its feet. It still helps sell tickets today.

This is the tradition from which Kaepernick allegedly broke: a remix continuously molded by time, self-protection, conflict, and creative intervention into something more inclusive and American.


"Seventy percent of the Earth is covered with water, now you camp on it!" proudly declares Smithfly on the website for its new camping boat — the Shoal Tent.

Why have we waited so long for camping equipment that actually lets us sleep on the water? Because it's an awful idea, that's why.

"The world is your waterbed," Smithfly says on its site. But the big difference is that no one has ever had to worry about falling asleep and then drowning on their waterbed.

RELATED: A ridiculous dad transformed Billie Eilish's 'Bad Guy' into a 3-minute long musical dad joke

While it is possible that one could wade into the water, unzip the tent, have a pleasant slumber, and wake up in the morning feeling safe and refreshed, there are countless things that could go terribly wrong.

The tent could float down the river and you wake up in the middle of nowhere.

You could have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

This guy.

It could spring a leak and you could drown while wrapped up in eight feet of heavy nylon.

A strong current could tip the tent-boat over.

There isn't any way to steer the darn thing.

This guy.

Mashable shared a charming video of the tent on Twitter and it was greeted with a chorus of people sharing the many ways one could die while staying the night in the Shoal Tent.

Oh yeah, it's expensive, too.

Even though the general public seems to think the Shoal Tent is a terrible idea, according to the Smithfly's website, it's currently sold out due to "popular demand" and it will be "available in 6-8 weeks." Oh, and did we mention it costs $1,999?

via zoezimmm / Imgur

There are few more perniciously dangerous conspiracy theories being shared online than the idea that vaccines cause autism.

This has led to a decline in Americans vaccinating their children, resulting in a massive increase in measles. This year has already seen over 1,200 cases of measles, a disease that was eradicated in the U.S. nearly 20 years ago.

A 2015 Pew Research study found that 83% of Americans think the measles vaccine is safe, while 9% think it's not. Another 7% are not sure. But when you look at the polls that include parents of minors, the numbers get worse, 13% believe that the measles vaccine is unsafe.

There is zero truth to the idea that vaccines cause autism. In fact, a recent study of over 650,000 children found there was no link whatsoever.

RELATED: A new study of over 650,000 children finds — once again — that vaccines don't cause autism

A great example of the lack of critical thinking shown by anti-vaxxers was a recent exchange on Facebook shared to Imgur by zoezimmm.

A parent named Kenleigh at a school in New Mexico shared a photo of a sign at reads: "Children will not be enrolled unless an immunization record is presented and immunizations are up-to-date."

This angered a Facebook user who went on a senseless tirade against vaccinations.

"That's fine, I'll just homeschool my kids," she wrote. At least they won't have to worry about getting shot up in school or being bullied, or being beat up / raped by the teachers!"

To defend her anti-vaccination argument, she used a factually incorrect claim that Amish people don't vaccinate their children. She also incorrectly claimed that the MMR vaccine is ineffective and used anecdotal evidence from her and her father to claim that vaccinations are unnecessary.

She also argued that "every human in the world is entitled to their own opinion." Which is true, but doesn't mean that wildly incorrect assumptions about health should be tolerated.

She concluded her argument with a point that proves she doesn't care about facts: "It doesn't matter what you say is not going to change my mind."

RELATED: 12 medical professionals shared their most memorable anti-vaxxer stories and you won't stop face-palming

While the anti-vaxxer was incorrect in her points, it must also be pointed out that some of the people who argued with her on Facebook were rude. That should never be tolerated in this type of discourse, but unfortunately, that's the world of social media.

Here's the entire exchange:

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The post received a ton of responses on imgur. Here are just a few:

"'In my opinion...' 'I believe...' That's not how facts work."

"You're entitled to your opinion. And everyone else is entitled to call you a dumbass."

"'What I do with my children is no concern to you at all.' Most of the time, true. When your kid might give mine polio, not true."

"If my child can't bring peanut butter, your child shouldn't bring preventable diseases."

It's important to call out people who spread dangerous views, especially how they pertain to health, on social media. But people should do so with respect and civility.


He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

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via Imgur

Every few years there's something that goes mega viral because people can't decide what it is.

There was the famous "is it blue and black, or white and gold" dress?

There was the audio recording that said either "yanny" or "Laurel."

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Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

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