The History of the Flag in American Sports
This is a story about the United States flag and sports that shouldn’t be impacted by your own political leanings…at least I think so. It details just when we started the tradition of the national anthem, and how far we’ve drifted from the regulations Congress wrote in 1942 with regards to how the flag should be respected.
The ties between sports and displays of patriotism go back at least a century. Fans first stood to salute the flag while singing the national anthem at the 1918 World Series. In 1942, during World War II, Congress wrote regulations, enshrined in a federal law but without penalties for violations, outlining the significance of the flag and how to properly respect it — regulations that are largely ignored today, especially at sporting events.
According to the code, the flag “should never be carried flat,” “never be used as wearing apparel” and “never be used for advertising.” Additionally, “no part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.”
A quick rundown of those guidelines:
- flags are carried flat regularly at football games and many other sporting events
- it’s absolutely become a part of athletic uniforms from any number of sports
- it has absolutely been used for advertising purposes (by our Department of Defense).
Again, I would think this is an issue for which the staunchest of conservatives and the most dreadlocked of Berkeley hippie would agree that the flag has no place in sports. Either it means too much or shouldn’t mean that much to be woven into our sporting events and the marketing of leagues.
It’s one thing to take a moment to thank those who have served at a game. I think there should be more of that. It doesn’t need to be part of marketing campaign, but of course we should genuine thanks and ‘salute the troops’. It’s quite another thing for sports industries (leagues, teams, owners, not to mention the ancillary partners like beer companies) to profit off of the flag. I know this happens a lot of ways, and it’s not limited to sports (as my mom just noted, just look to any car dealership), but damn. Whether you think the flag means something sacred, something not so pure, a mixture of both, or – I guess – nothing at all; the flag represents a powerful idea (or loss of) in all of those scenarios. It bothers me that we use this idea to sell baseball caps and uniforms. We are being sold an idea that’s already ours, that we get to define.
I would like to understand why this pimping out of the flag is embraced, while other forms of protest – be it kneeling for the anthem or burning the flag – are so fiercely contested and labeled disrespectful. What am I missing? I am genuinely asking. – PAL
Source: The N.F.L. Wears Patriotism on Its Sleeve. And Its Head. And Its Feet.,” Brittainy Newman, The New York Times (01/03/2020)
How the VIkings Almost Ended the 49ers Budding Dynasty
The 49ers were the team of the 1980s. They won the Super Bowl after the 1981, 1984, 1988, and 1989 seasons, and made the NFC Championship after 1983. But the mid-80s saw some disappointments. They lost in the Wild Card round after the 1985 season, and the Divisional round after the 1986 season. But they entered the playoffs after the 1987, strike-shortened season as the NFC’s #1 seed, and looked poised to make another deep run. The Niners entered those playoffs as a juggernaut: they ranked No. 1 in total offense, rushing offense, scoring offense, total defense, pass defense and point differential. They had six future Hall of Famers on the field, including Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Dwight Clark, and friggin Steve Young on the bench. They were expected to win their third Super Bowl of the decade. It didn’t happen.
Instead, in the Niners’ first playoff game that year, the Minnesota Vikings came into Candlestick and put it on ‘em, 36-24. The Vikings made Joe Montana look so bad that Bill Walsh benched him (though it did give the 49ers their first glimpse at what Steve Young could really do. Vikings wide receiver Anthony Carter looked like, well, Jerry Rice, and set a then-NFL record with 227 yards receiving.
I don’t remember this game. I was only six years old, and my very earliest football memory is the next season, when the Niners beat the Bengals, and Montana solidified his legacy with The Drive. But as the 49ers and Vikings prepare to play in the NFL playoffs this weekend, it’s interesting as hell to consider that game in January 1988, and this oral history of that game is an interesting way to do so. Any 49ers fan around my age (and maybe older) will be shocked to read some of the things in this article. For example:
49ers President Carmen Policy: Bill [Walsh] wasn’t quite right. His coaching wasn’t the best, and so forth. And we were going through this other combination of Steve Young-Joe Montana. And we didn’t have our feet solidly on the ground in terms of how we felt about ourselves and about the team and about the season.
Yes, that is Carmen Policy saying that legendary coach Bill Walsh’s coaching wasn’t the best, and saying that there was a QB controversy between Montana and Young long before I’d ever heard of one. In fact, shortly after halftime, Walsh benched Montana. Joe Montana! Benched! I had no idea. Here’s 49er Randy Cross on the benching:
Cross: With Joe, we’d won a couple Super Bowls. We’d won a bunch of playoff games. We’d won a bunch of games, period, with him. So it was very, very strange. You knew there was a chance, but not until he really did it, did it really hit you and sink in….That whole dynamic was very unique and kind of uncomfortable, to be honest. (Bill’s) pissed. All the coaches are pissed. We’re pissed. We needed a spark. We needed something different to happen. They were just making plays happen like crazy on offense, and we couldn’t get anything going on defense.
Somewhere, in an alternate universe, Sliders-style, that loss ended the 49ers’ budding dynasty. In this universe, it nearly did. Except, that it didn’t. The Vikings lost the next week to the Washington football team. In San Francisco, things turned around. After the loss to Minnesota, the team damn near fired Bill Walsh. As Policy puts it:
“I’ll never forget (team owner) Eddie (DeBartolo) telling Bill that night: ‘Bill, I don’t want you to lose another playoff game. This is the last one you lose with the 49ers.”
DeBartolo was right. Walsh would coach just one more season, winning the next Super Bowl (and beating the Vikings 34-9 in the playoffs along the way), and then retiring (before returning to Stanford for three deliciously disappointing seasons). Montana held off Young for a few more seasons, winning the Super Bowl in 1988 and 1989, and then losing to the Giants in 1990. Montana missed most of the next two seasons due to injury, as Young took over, and won a Super Bowl in 1994 after Montana left for Kansas City.
A good oral history tells you a lot about a subject you thought you knew well, but upon reding realize you did not. Good read for any 49ers (or Vikings) fan. -TOB
Source: “The Day the Vikings Put Joe Montana on the Bench and Bill Walsh on the Hot Seat,” Jon Krawczynski, David Lombardi and Daniel Brown, The Athletic (01/09/2020)
PAL: You sure do learn some stuff. How about Joe Montana and Roger Craig crossing the picket line during the strike?!? I never knew that.
Also, the Montana benching did exactly what Walsh had hoped it would do. Young absolutely jump started the offense. Two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing) that kept them within distance of a comeback. The problem was the Niner defense couldn’t stop Anthony Carter.
One last note on the game this weekend. I haven’t really been a Vikings fan since Gary Anderson missed one field goal all season and ruined the Moss, Carter, Cunningham, John Randle Vikings 1998 season. But then I found myself planning my day last weekend around getting back to watch the Vikings-Saints game. And for all the terrible, terrible problems with football…damn if it’s not enjoyable to watch on TV. Can’t deny it.
Go Vikes. This Niners team is awfully talented, but not a whole lot of experience in a playoff game. I’m not a Cousins fan, but he finally delivered last week. Jimmy G hasn’t done it yet. Let’s see how the pretty boy handles the pressure.
Kevin Love Confirm He Sucks
Full disclosure: I’ve never been a Kevin Love fan.
In his one season at UCLA, Love and future NBA teammates Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (seriously how did that team not win a title?), the Bruins beat my favorite Cal team ever on a ludicrous sequence where Love knocked over Ryan Anderson, who was trying to draw the foul to ice the game, and then won on an illegal shot by Josh Shipp that the referees unbelievably allowed to count (I’m still very bitter).
Then he went to Minnesota and put up big numbers on awful teams.
Then he went to Cleveland, his numbers went down, and he complained about playing in LeBron’s shadow while they won.
But I’ve been mostly alone on this. Love smiles, and seem nice, and people generally like him. So this week has been very vindicating for me.
After LeBron left Cleveland two years ago, Love was a free agent. He could have left and played for a contender. But Love instead signed a max extension – 4 years, $120M. He got paid. And he did so knowing full well the situation he’d be in – the Cavs were never going to be good post-LeBron.
Last year, he was pretty quiet. The team didn’t win much and his numbers did not return to his Minnesota-levels, suggesting that his numbers didn’t dip in Cleveland because he took a backseat to LeBron; or alternatively suggesting he’d forgotten how to play as the best player on his team; or alternatively suggesting he’d lost a step or two. Whatever the reason, Cleveland’s questionable (IMO) decision to sign him to that extension didn’t look great. But now, it looks awful.
This week, Love threw a couple of on-court tantrums.
What a baby. The quote about having money is obnoxious, but I especially hate how he treats his young teammate in the second video. I’m just very happy that everyone else finally sees what I’ve seen for more than a decade. This guy sucks. -TOB
PAL: Other than the following, I have no feelings about Kevin Love:
The Beach Boys…meh.
Videos of the Week
Tweets of the Week
I’m not a huge KD fan but I like Kendrick Perkins far less. So: LOLLLL.
Song of the Week
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – ‘Hey Mama’
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