It would be illegal for some sports venues to skip the national anthem before games under a new bill proposed by a Republican legislator.
Stevens Point Republican Sen. Patrick Testin's Star Spangled Banner Act, proposed Wednesday, would require the anthem to be played before all sporting events held in venues that have received taxpayer funding. That would include all home games for the Green Bay Packers, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Milwaukee Bucks, Testin said in a release.
Though the bill would make the anthem mandatory, it does not include penalties for organizations that skip it.
It's already the practice of Wisconsin’s professional sports teams, and most organized amateur teams, to have fans stand before each game for the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner." But at the beginning of the NBA season in December, one team, the Dallas Mavericks, skipped the anthem for about six weeks during games held without fans in the stadium. This month, after the NBA said its policy was for the anthem to be sung before all games, the Mavericks resumed the practice.
"Hearing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' at a sporting event reminds us that despite our differences, we have something in common: We are Americans," Testin said in a statement. "It's a practice that unites us, and I believe it's worth preserving."
It's also been the site of culture wars in recent years. Beginning in 2016, Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began to kneel during the national anthem before NFL games as a protest against racial injustice. That protest grew, and throughout 2017 more NFL players also chose to kneel during the anthem, or otherwise showed support for Kaepernick's message. The players' decision to kneel was harshly criticized by then-President Donald Trump, who called for the public to boycott the NFL over the protests, and by then-Gov. Scott Walker, both Republicans. And Kaepernick, who left the 49ers and subsequently sued the NFL, remained a controversial figure even after the NFL changed its policies to keep players from kneeling. In 2019, he was the subject of a fight in the Wisconsin state Capitol between Democratic lawmakers who wanted to include his name in a resolution honoring Black history, and Republican lawmakers who opposed it.
More recently, the NBA has been the locus of racial protest. After a police officer shot Kenosha man Jacob Blake in the back in August, the Bucks protested by refusing to leave the locker room for a playoff game. That set in motion a broader strike of NBA teams that extended across professional sports. In January, the Bucks took a knee in protest at the beginning of a game after prosecutors declined to charge the Kenosha officer with a crime in the shooting.
Asked for comment on the bill, a Bucks spokesperson said, "It’s long-standing league policy for teams to play the national anthem before games."
GOP lawmakers Rep. Scott Krug, R-Rome, and Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc, also support the proposal. The bill would have to pass both the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate and be signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to become law, and it could be the subject of legal challenges if organizations object to making a longtime custom a legal requirement.
One of Testin's legislative colleagues from central Wisconsin, Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, criticized the bill by noting on Twitter that Testin is the chair of the Senate’s Health Committee, which has not been active in recent months to counter the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The people of Wisconsin are counting on the Legislature to focus on pandemic relief, a strong economic recovery, and ensuring efficient and equitable vaccine distribution," Shankland said in a statement to WPR. "This proposed legislation doesn't solve a problem and doesn't tackle the issues that struggling families, workers, and small businesses want us to work on together."
Testin declined WPR's request for an interview. Representatives for the Brewers and Packers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.