Playing The National Anthem Before Sporting Events Is ‘Awkward,’ Says Former Soccer Coach Bruce Arena

Jozy Altidore #17, Graham Zusi #19 and Fabian Johnson #23 of the United States look on during the national anthem
Mike Lawrie / Getty Images

Former United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) soccer coach Bruce Arena said that playing the national anthem before sporting events is “awkward” and “inappropriate,” in a conversation with ESPN.

The matter of the national anthem before sporting events has become a hotbed of controversy for several years now, ever since Colin Kaepernick famously “took a knee” during the pregame ceremony in protest of police brutality. The debate ebbed and flowed over the years since Kaepernick started the trend, but lately, the topic has again been part of the national conversation in the wake of the George Floyd protests.

Bruce Arena, who coached the USMNT to two FIFA World Cups and is currently the coach of the New England Revolution, said that he’s not certain why the national anthem is even played before sporting events.

“We don’t use national anthem in movie theaters or on Broadway, or for other events in the United States. I don’t think it is appropriate to have a national anthem before a baseball game or an MLS game… I think it is inappropriate,” he said.

COUVA, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO - OCTOBER 10: Head coach of the United States mens national team Bruce Arena during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Trinidad and Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium on October 10, 2017 in Couva, Trinidad And Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)
  Ashley Allen / Getty Images

He also claimed that playing the anthem before sporting events puts players in “an awkward position.”

This is especially true in the sports league in which Arena currently works — Major League Soccer (MLS). Of the 722 players across its 26 clubs, more than half — 422 — weren’t born in the U.S. That effectively means that the players are being compelled to stand for an anthem that isn’t theirs.

“I live in the greatest country in the world but I think it is inappropriate,” he said.

In fact, playing the national anthem before sporting events is, with rare exceptions, strictly an American thing, according to Mental Floss. Specifically, the tradition took hold after the U.S. entered World War I. To drum up patriotic fervor, during the seventh-inning stretch of Game 1 of the 1918 World Series, the band struck up an impromptu rendition of the song, as the players on the Cubs and Red Sox stood at attention. The crowd sang along, and thus, a tradition was born.

Outside of the U.S. and Canada, however, the tradition is all but unheard of. Indeed, in most cases, the national anthem is only played at a sporting event before an international competition, and even then, only in certain, rare circumstances, according to The 18. For example, during FIFA World Cup matches, players on both sides dutifully stand at attention while the anthems of both teams’ home countries are played. However, in international competitions between European soccer teams outside of the World Cup, the national anthems aren’t played — only the Champions League anthem is played.