Should we stand up when we sing?
Never have been to Levi’s Stadium. Don’t think I hate football. Just not enthusiastic. As Oscar Wilde put it, “Football is all very well as a game for rough girls, but is hardly suitable for delicate boys.”
I coach soccer, and cross country, and baseball and basketball. I do not coach football. Zane, my perspicacious teenager, said, “Why should I play a sport where the entire job of the other team is to knock me over?”
Never have been to Levi’s Stadium. Not because I resent the Santa Clara 49ers for moving, but out of an unwillingness to spend a couple of hundred dollars to drive down the Peninsula to watch young millionaires argue over an ovoid ball.
This column is neither a defense nor a condemnation of Colin Kaepernick’s not standing for the national anthem. The cool thing about America is that we each get to have our own opinions. If I understand this right, Kaepernick is more famous this season for sitting down than he was for standing up and throwing a football the past few seasons.
Part of Kaepernick’s criticism of the anthem was a criticism of cops: “You can become a cop in six months, and you don’t have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist.” I resent that. I am the kind of gay man who resisted the stereotype of becoming a hairdresser. I train very hard for my job every day, and I don’t criticize a guy whose job consists of playing a two-hour game (including a one-hour intermission) on about 16 weekends a year. But I respect Kaepernick’s right to say it.
I’m a conventional kind of patriot. Twenty-two years ago, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and I take that oath seriously. Yes, I know bad cops, just as I know bad cosmetologists, but most of the deputies I work with are decent, hardworking people who walk into dangerous situations while others are running away. I daresay that a deputy sheriff’s uniform involves a lot more risk than a Niners jersey. Not many people get killed just for being a football player.
Inside my tiny office you will find a freestanding American flag, next to the state and city flags.
You don’t know me, Mr. Kaepernick. You might call me racist, but then you don’t know the diversity of my family or the values we embrace. The Fisher-Paulsons embrace the patriotism of my father, Hap, who fought with Patton in the Tank Division in World War II. We also embrace patriotism by engaging in ACT UP protests, because the Fisher-Paulsons believe in fighting for the underdog.
As patriotic as Hap was, he agreed with me that “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a stupid song to have as a national anthem. It’s hard to sing, requiring nearly a two-octave range, and is based upon an old drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”
And then there are the lyrics. If you ever read Francis Scott Key’s original poem, “The Defense of Fort McHenry,” you’d know that the third verse is about slavery (“No refuge could save the hireling and slave …”)
At Aidan’s school (St. John the Evangelist), Sister Shirley leads the children every morning in a chorus of “America the Beautiful.” And for me this song, written by Katharine Lee Bates in 1893, got it right. No rockets. No war. It’s a lot more singable for an old bass like me: “O beautiful, for spacious skies … and crown thy good with brotherhood.” Brotherhood is a value we can all embrace.
Maybe we shouldn’t play a national anthem at all. Football’s not like the Olympics, with competing nations. All of the teams are based inside the United States. Let’s start the games instead with a song about the city hosting the game. Make it a rule that you can’t have a sports team franchise until you have a metropolitan anthem.
The Jets could start off with Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York” (although being gay, of course, I prefer Liza Minnelli’s). The Bears could play “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town).”
Los Angeles, having failed to produce a catchy song, might have to settle on Burt Bacharach’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?,” just for the lyric “L.A. is a great big freeway.”
San Francisco argues about its official song as much as it does its nickname. My money is on “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” There are many loyal to “San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gate,” but despite San Francisco’s exhaustive referendum system, we have never put a “Tony Bennett vs. Jeanette MacDonald” vote on the ballot.
But whatever song, it doesn’t matter. Sit down or stand up, Mr. Kaepernick. You choose. I’ll defend your right to do it.
Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle.