Republican bill brings National Anthem to youth sports fields across Wisconsin
Fans wave the American flag during a soccer game. (David Wilson | Flickr (CC BY 2.0))
Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) is struck by the absurdity that under a bill currently pending in the Senate, her three-year-old’s T-ball team will need to play the National Anthem before every game.
The bill, authored by Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point), would require the Star Spangled Banner be played before any sporting event taking place at a facility that was built with taxpayer funds. This includes professional stadiums such as Lambeau Field, American Family Field and Fiserv Forum as well as the public parks and school fields that most of the state’s youth sports are played on.
“It’s absurd,” Roys says. “The idea that before my three-year-old plays T-ball, on her team of tiny people, that we’re supposed to sing the national anthem is laughable.”
The Wisconsin Park and Recreation Association — made up of more than 1,200 park officials across the state who hold thousands of sporting events every year — normally advocates for state stewardship of public lands and increased local government funding. But after the introduction of this bill in March, the group sent a letter to the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Legal Review and Consumer Protection to push for an amendment to the bill that would exempt facilities with capacity under 500 people.
“Our members wholeheartedly support the playing or singing of the national anthem at games and events,” the letter states. “However, depending on the appropriate venue and league level, this administratively could be unmanageable. Would equipment be needed at every youth sports game on local fields? How could this affect the timing of keeping activities on schedule? Would a recreational staff person have to attend each game to ensure the anthem is played? Would we need to add more staff to ensure compliance?”
The letter also asks how officials of youth sports tournaments would follow the law. If there are 50 soccer games happening in one day at a public park, does the anthem need to be played before every game, or just at the beginning?
The bill passed the Assembly with 14 Democratic votes but no amendments.
Testin, who did not respond to a request for an interview, wrote the bill after the Dallas Mavericks — a professional basketball team — stopped playing the anthem before games for the first few weeks of the NBA season. The Mavericks eventually resumed playing the anthem because league rules require it.
“But it brought up the question, how could we prevent such a situation from happening here in the state of Wisconsin?” Testin said in a hearing for the bill. “And that’s where the idea for this bill came from.”
The bill does not include any enforcement mechanisms, so a youth sports league that doesn’t follow the law won’t be punished — but Roys wonders why it’s necessary to put laws on the books that won’t be enforced.
“We are lawmakers, we make laws,” she says. “If you want to make a statement that isn’t a law, then pass a resolution, write up a plaque. Don’t pass a law you’re not going to enforce. Don’t put forth a bill, make a change in statute, but say don’t worry about it.”
Roys is also alarmed by the idea that the government is enforcing speech and “mandating” patriotism.
“It’s coerced, performative patriotism,” she says. “That’s not what free democracies do, that’s what authoritarian regimes do.”
But Republicans say this bill is all about promoting patriotism and protecting the “minority” of Americans that want to stand up and thank the troops.
“We have deferred for too long in this state to a vocal minority, who are anti-American,” Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) said in the hearing. “This is our way of saying thank you to all the veterans out there that have died to preserve those freedoms. And I think this is very important. And it protects my ability, as maybe one of those minorities that want to say thank you, in allowing me to do so and to stand for that national anthem and to show my thank you to all those that went before and to show my pride in this country and the democracy that it is and the world beacon that it is.”
The American Legion of Wisconsin and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) of Wisconsin have signed on to the bill, saying it promotes “Americanism” and protects the symbol of the flag from going away.
“Nothing in the history of our country inspires unity, appreciation for our flag, and most importantly, remembrance of all those who served and sacrificed to protect what the flag represents,” VFW official Jason Johns wrote in a letter to the committee. “If we allow this long-honored tradition to fade away, we send the message to our current and future generations that we are not ‘United’ in our continued fight for liberty and freedom. Make no mistake, our youth are watching, and we will need them to step-up and sign on the dotted line someday to put on the uniform and defend what we hold so dear. If we, as a people, do not tell them we are indeed united, then divided we will fall.”
Neither the American Legion nor the VFW said in their letters or testimony about the bill why playing the anthem before youth sports is necessary to protect the republic.
“It’s just very hard to engage with this as a serious piece of legislation,” Roys says. “If he actually thought it was an important problem, then instead he’d say it should be enforced. Instead it’s actually an opportunity to grandstand. It’s a clown car situation here at the Capitol.”
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