The NFL’s National Anthem Policy Is Controversial, But What Are Other Sports’ Policies?

For better of for worse, the national anthem has been a part of sporting events since at least 1918.

Daniel GluskoterAP Images for Panini

The NFL’s new national anthem policy, announced last week, is controversial. Though intended to put an end to the controversy once and for all, NBC Sports reporter Mike Florio opines that it has succeeded merely in making things worse.

As the fallout from the NFL’s new national anthem policy plays out in the media, on the field, and quite possibly in the courts, it bears taking a look at how other major professional sporting leagues address the issue.

Major League Baseball

Since it was at a baseball game that, legend has it, the tradition of singing the national anthem before sporting events began, here is where this discussion will begin.

According to the Washington Post, an exceptionally-thin crowd was on-hand for the 1918 World Series between the Cubs and the Red Sox. The nation was at war, and fans were in a sour mood, in part because some accused the players of cowardice for being on the ball field instead of the battlefield.

During the 7th-inning stretch, a nearby band began playing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” perhaps for no other reason than to lighten the mood. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Now 100 years later, Major League Baseball is, perhaps surprisingly, without specific rules on the issue, according to ESPN. And as of this writing, only one MLB player — the Oakland Athletics’ Bruce Maxwell — has taken a knee during the national anthem, according to the Washington Post.

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The National Basketball Association

If Major League Baseball is unclear on the matter of national anthem protests, the NBA is anything but: players must stand for the anthem, no questions asked. It’s been that way for 20 years, according to NBC Sports, and it’s not going to change. However, the NBA’s rules don’t prescribe any penalties for failing to stand, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said he would “deal with it when it happens.”

The National Hockey League

Like Major League Baseball, the NHL doesn’t have a written policy, other than to state that either the Canadian anthem, the American anthem, or both, must be played at each game.

NASCAR

Like other leagues, NASCAR has no written policy about the anthem. Pit crews typically stand for the anthem, and drivers stand beside their cars as the anthem is played. They then have five minutes to get behind the wheel and get settled in.

Major League Soccer

Patriotic displays accompanied by children have been a part of the soccer experience since at least 1996. However, MLS players are “encouraged” to stand for the anthem, but there is no specific written policy about the issue.