Friday Flashbacks: National Anthem Controversy/Protests from Jose Feliciano to a Famous Big Ten Brawl

By Jason Lisk

Once upon a time, I used to do a feature called Friday Flashbacks where I would go back through newspaper archives and find old stories on sports topics (or for a relevant day). I thought I would bust it out for today, since the national anthem, patriotism, and protests are still a story. I ran a keyword search for newspaper pages that contained “national anthem” and “protest” for the decades of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Here are the stories that came up. Many of them have a racial basis–so in that sense not a lot has changed. Some are truly bizarre or unique. Enjoy. (Note: I didn’t include the John Carlos/Tommy Smith story because it was everywhere in 1968, and I tried to include some lesser known events).

1960 – Where once upon a time, actually singing the national anthem got you arrested for disorderly conduct (if you did so while protesting segregation)

This first one I had to put since it didn’t involve a protest during the anthem at a sporting event, but rather the singing of the anthem during a protest march.

1968- Jose Feliciano sings, draws complaints

Jose Feliciano was not protesting the national anthem. He was just singing it in his own style. That, of course, was a bridge too far.

Here’s the actual rendition that led to so much angst.

And here’s some letters to the editor:















1969- The Chester 16

In Philadelphia, in 1969, a group of black high school students protested during the national anthem. Later, in the game, there were fights and a riot at the game, and 16 black students were convicted of severe crimes that many said outweighed the actual facts.

1969- New Mexico protests against BYU and Mormon racial policies

That protest sparked this local column entitled “No Disrespect to Flag” to try to explain the cause of the protest. “It is perhaps easier for unsympathetic whites to rage over the imagined disrespect to our flag or our anthem, than face their own racism.”

1971-Amado Morales of Puerto Rico

1971– More BYU protests, this time at Wyoming 

These protests came two years after the Wyoming coach dismissed 14 black players who wanted to protest treatment.

1971- Creighton Cheerleaders take a Stand

From a Creighton University page:

“During the 1970-71 academic year, a controversy arose over the cheerleading squad’s response to the national anthem at basketball games. The University disbanded the cheerleading squad until 1973.”

That protest was over racial inequality in the country.

1971- Northern Illinois stops playing anthem to avoid racial protests

Some Northern Illinois students did not stand for anthem the previous year, so the President decreed that it would not be played at home games.

1972 – Minnesota-Ohio State brawl and the fallout

In 1972, a Minnesota-Ohio State game devolved into a brawl after a hard foul in the final minute, and two of the Minnesota players were suspended for the rest of the year. Here’s video of that incident.


1972- Trailblazer sits to protest a release of another player

UCLA player Sidney Wicks is mentioned in this article, and it appears his teammate Charles Yelverton sat during the national anthem because he was upset … about the release of a teammate.

1973- Duane Thomas turns his back at Buffalo

Duane Thomas was in the middle of controversy at a 1973 preseason game in Buffalo, and fans sent letters to the Commissioner to discipline him (Rozelle did not).

"During the 1973 preseason, the Redskins traveled to Buffalo for a Friday night meeting with the Bills. New running back Duane Thomas, acquired that offseason for a first- and a second-round draft pick,  was evidently heckled throughout that game “because, [fans] claimed, he allegedly did not face the flag during the playing of the national anthem,” The Post’s Leonard Shapiro reported. “I talked to several people who were sitting in the section behind the Washington bench,” Buffalo Evening News columnist Cy Kritzer told Shapiro. “They said he didn’t stand at attention and was faced the opposite way during the national anthem and they didn’t like it."

1974- Vietnam veterans organized a protest during national anthem to sit

What about the troops? In 1974, a group of campus veterans organized an anthem protest at Harper College, in response to President Ford saying he would veto a bill to provide veteran’s benefits.