Why do U.S. soccer clubs sing the national anthem?

U.S. national anthemGetty/Goal

Unlike Europe, the U.S. (and also Canada) always play the national anthem before games no matter the sport, from American football to MLS games.

All games, be it domestic or international, must wait to be played until after Francis Scott Key's song is sung.

So why is it purely an American tradition to sing the anthem before every sporting game - including MLS games? Goal takes a look.

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Why do U.S. soccer teams sing the national anthem in MLS?

MLS state: “The march of players, officials and children into our stadiums and singing of the anthem has been a pre-match tradition since our first game in 1996. The national anthem provides our clubs and fans an important and time-honored opportunity to salute our country and stand up for its principles, whether in the United States or in Canada."

Singing the anthem is an American tradition equated with nationalism and patriotism, where even instances of opting not to stand during it are met with backlash – outlined by fallout that NFL player Colin Kaepernick received when he knelt during the anthem to protest police brutality against Black Americans.

Given the tense political climate in the United States, the national anthem has become increasingly divisive.

Despite the political connotations, the national anthem remains a popular and traditional event before sporting events. The first instance of the anthem was sung before a game dating back to a baseball game in Brooklyn, New York, in 1862 during the Civil War.

It wasn't until 1931 that the song became the official U.S. anthem, but the Star-Spangled Banner was already being performed before sporting events starting with the 1918 Fall Classic.

During the opening game of the series, a military band performed the Star-Spangled Banner during the seventh inning. It was well-received with the crowd, and got such a positive reaction that the band returned for Games 2 and 3 to play the song again.

Over the course of the next decade, it became standard to sing the song for World Series and holiday games, eventually becoming a daily regime and becoming integrated into other sports aside from baseball.

After the end of World War II, the NFL commissioner ruled that the anthem be played at every game.

The anthem isn't just sung before sporting events involving only American teams.

When the likes of non-European clubs play in America for friendly games – such as when Liverpool faced Manchester City in the International Champions' Cup – and there wasn't a single American player on the pitch, the anthem is still sung.

Will it always be mandatory to sing the U.S. national anthem before games?

Following George Floyd's death at the hands of white police offer Derek Chauvin in 2020, which sparked thousands of protests worldwide in the fight against police brutality against Black people, led to a handful of players to kneel during the national anthem.

They follow in the footsteps of Kaepernick, whose legacy in sport is enduring.

The playing of the national anthem was temporarily stopped at U.S. sporting matches in 2020 when fans were not allowed to attend stadiums

But when fans attended FC Dallas vs Nashville SC at Toyota Stadium later that August, some supporters booed the players kneeling during the anthem.

The MLS and NWSL both allow players to kneel during the national anthem as a means of peaceful protest, but it remains to be seen whether or not the tradition of playing the national anthem before the start of every game will be re-evaluated.

"At the same time, freedom of speech—and the right to peaceful protest—are the hallmarks of both countries. Though we encourage our players to stand during the national anthem, we respect and support their right to express their personal beliefs," said MLS.

The NWSL state: "The national anthem is an opportunity to celebrate our country’s freedom while honoring the many sacrifices borne by the men and women who have done so much to protect that freedom.

"We will continue to encourage our players to participate in honoring our nation during the national anthem and we support the right of everyone in our league to exercise their right to peacefully protest."

Megan Rapinoe became the first U.S. women's player to kneel during the anthem before an international fixture in 2016.

U.S. Soccer had previously implemented a rule that required players to “stand respectfully” for the anthem, but was reversed following the killing of Floyd.

Rapinoe said at the time: "It was very intentional. It was a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he's standing for right now.

"I think it's actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated and the way that a lot of the media has covered it and made it about something that it absolutely isn't. We need to have a more thoughtful, two-sided conversation about racial issues in this country."

What is the U.S. national anthem?

The Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem of the United States,. 

The lyrics stem from 'Defence of Fort M'Henry', a poem written in September 1814 by lawyer and poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British Ships during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. 

Key's lyrics are inspired by the large American flag consisting of 15 stars and 15 stripes – known as the Star-Spangled Banner – that flew above the fort during the eventual U.S. victory.

The song was then recognized for official, national use by the U.S. Navy in 1889, and by former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. It was then made the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931 which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.