Letter to the Editor: Flag Protocol

In Sturgeon Bay, we are surrounded by a display of American flags as is fitting for a Coast Guard City. As we know, there are protocols for when and how to respectfully display our flag, (U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Sections 3-8). This code does not make exceptions for flags in flower pots left outside all winter, flags emblazoned on cutoff jeans, printed flags embossed on picnic fare, or football field-sized flags held horizontal to the ground before a game.

The protocol for our behavior during the National Anthem also is defined in the U.S. Code, which states, in part, for non-military men, take off your hat, stand at attention and place your right hand such that your hat is over your left shoulder, your hand resting over your heart. In a fit of residual sexism, women (apparently) may leave their hats on. Whether the stadium beer concession stands should remain open for business during the Anthem is not defined.

Playing our National Anthem before every sporting event, T-ball excluded, dates (approximately) to WWI and the World Series of 1918, even before it was our official National Anthem. Then, as now, the Anthem meant different things to different people. It had immense patriotic meaning to the Sox’s third baseman, who was on furlough from the U.S. Navy; however, to the owner of the Red Sox, an admitted impresario, it was showmanship meant to boost ticket sales.

The NFL, the Anthem and flag also have a checkered history, the low point must be last year, when, through Senators McCain and Flack, we learned that the U.S. government was subsidizing the NFL to “pay for patriotism.” Owning an NFL team is a for-profit business. (I know about the uniqueness of the Packers. My Dad once bought a car from Don Hudson). Owners can require of their employees certain behaviors (not kneeling) during the Anthem but owners also should admit to all the other ways they violate U.S. code to enhance TV revenue.

Our American flag and the National Anthem belong to all of us and to each of us.  We reserve the right to think that our flag and Anthem are exploited for commercial gain, and during the Anthem, it’s no stretch to support anyone’s right to have not only patriotic thoughts but also, with respect to social equality and justice for all Americans, to think we have a ways to go.

Sources:  Ferris, Marc 2014 Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem, Johns Hopkins University Press.

After writing this I learned that indeed in some communities, the Anthem is played before T-ball games.


Norman J. Wilsman

Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

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