Dean Nass, 64, pressed a button on his laptop at midday in the parking lot before a Carolina Panthers game. "The Star Spangled Banner" started to play. His friends and family – a total of 15 – put down their grilled chicken, potato salad, and beer cans and were paying attention.
The Nass family is not the only one that has joined together on the subject of football and flags in the past two decades. The N.F.L. has made patriotism an integral part of the spectacle that surrounds the game on the field and at times made it the focus of controversy.
Military personnel in uniform, fighter plane overpasses, field-sized flags and red, white and blue festooned N.F.L. Jerseys have become part of the game landscape. Despite criticism from certain corners about the politicization of the game, the league has continued to adopt symbols of patriotism. Some teams even accepted money by the Department of Defense for patriotic performances during the games, with the league eventually returning more than $ 700,000 after testing.
How the league and its players express their patriotism became a sensitive issue in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick, then a San Francisco 49ers quarterback, knelt down during the national anthem game to raise awareness of police brutality against African Americans (after sitting first) He knelt on the bench on the advice of a former Green Beret. A handful of other players followed suit. Then, in 2017, President Trump set fire to a fire when he suggested during a political rally that N.F.L. Owners should fire players who refused to stand for the national anthem. Kaepernick, who left the 49ers after the 2016 season, had no job in the N.F.L. since.
The links between sport and patriotism go back at least a century. Fans welcomed the flag first while watching the national anthem at. Sangen World Cup 1918. During World War II, in 1942, Congress wrote regulations that were enshrined in a federal law but did not include penalties for violations, and outlined the meaning of the flag and its proper compliance – regulations that are largely ignored today, especially at sporting events ,
According to the code, the flag should “never be worn flat”, “never be used as clothing” and “never be used for advertising purposes”. In addition, “no part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or sports uniform. "
"The flag must not be used for advertising purposes," said David Janik, president of the National Flag Day Foundation, an advisory group in Waubeka, Wisconsin.
When N.F.L. Popularity grew in the 1960s, and under the leadership of Pete Rozelle, his commissioner and a Navy veteran, he made a determined effort to join patriotism. In 1968, Rozelle organized the first military transfer to a Super Bowl. It wasn't long before, in addition to U.S.O. Travel and visits to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, honor guards, and other military staples have become an integral part of many of the N.F.L. as well as in other leagues.
Occasional protests, be it Kaepernick or Megan Rapinoe, the soccer player who didn't put her hand on her heart during the national anthem, or a cheerleader at Kennesaw State University in Georgia who knelt during the song.
The patriotic gestures can also extend to catch-controlled actions outside the field. In a game between the Panthers and the Titans in early November, three teenagers in uniform switched from tailgate to tailgate and collected donations in a boot for wreaths that were placed on the graves of war veterans.
By the end of November, every N.F.L. team had a Salute-to-service game in which active military personnel and veterans could watch the game from field-level suites. The players shook hands and thanked them for their service.
Inspired by the public address, the fans jumped up again and again to make a standing ovation. For Taira Davis, an ex-marine and a 20-year-old policewoman, that meant a lot. “From my point of view, we never made a lot of money,” said Ms. Davis, “so it was huge to be able to go to something like that. It is a special treat. And do you know that someone gives you tickets and that you go there and are also valued? That's big."
Bart Bazquez, a marine, used his cell phone to photograph his friend Thomas Garza, who was also a marine, when he posed at a fountain with a flag of the Marine Corps. "I think people see football players as they see the military," said Garza, "watching them from a distance and idolizing them."
There were American flags, including one 75 feet wide and 25 feet high, that military personnel had deployed to the field before the start.
The patriotic pomp can have unintended consequences, especially when the simple act of watching a football game becomes a political statement, as has been the case for some in recent years. Davis, who had worked as a Marines food service specialist for eight years prior to her law enforcement career, said her family had a satellite TV subscription for years to watch football.
"We haven't had a TV in about two years because the games have just become too political," she said. "You can't enjoy it."