People have been angry about athlete protests during the National Anthem in recent weeks, but don’t think for a moment this is anything new. Wide swaths of America get angry if you do anything that, in their minds anyway, disrespects the National Anthem.
Just ask Jose Feliciano who, in 1968, was asked to do the anthem before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series between the Tigers and Cardinals in Tiger Stadium in Detroit.
Today David Davis of Deadspin walks us back through that controversy. A controversy which looks particularly idiotic with the aid of hindsight. Feliciano’s transgression: re-arranging the Anthem, making it into something of a folky and soulful number, reflecting the turbulent year in which it was being performed. Now we take no issue with a performer re-interpreting “The Star Spangled Banner,” but people were outraged at Feliciano’s rendition, however respectful — and, objectively speaking, beautiful — it was.
I can add one bit to this that wasn’t in Davis’ story. An acquaintance of mine was a low-level Tigers front office employee in 1968 and he was there for the game. When Feliciano began singing, the wife of Tigers owner John Fetzer went into a tizzy. My friend says she began ordering anyone within earshot to do whatever could be done to stop Feliciano. Unplug his amp, put something else louder over the speakers, anything. It was a bit of a chaotic scene, I was told, with no one really doing anything except trying to stay out of Mrs. Fetzer’s way in the short time the song took to complete.
Years later, as Davis notes, Feliciano was invited back to Detroit to perform the anthem and no one can be found now who will admit to being angry about it then. Everyone I know with a memory of it, in fact — family members and friends of family members who lived in Detroit in the late 1960s — claims they thought it was beautiful.
I’m assuming that, similarly, many people angry at Collin Kaepernick or Bruce Maxwell or any other protesting athlete today will claim, years in the future, that they were with them and understood what they were getting at.