MADISON, Wis. — The national anthem would have to be played before all sporting events held at Wisconsin venues that received any public funding under a mostly symbolic bill passed Tuesday by the state Assembly.
The Assembly passed the proposal on a bipartisan 74-22 vote, sending it on to the Senate. Democratic opponents derided it as a political stunt, unworkable and a solution in search of a problem.
Democratic Rep. Lisa Subeck, of Madison, called the GOP-sponsored proposal a “political messaging kind of bill and not about anything serious.”
“I also don’t think it’s possible for us to legislate patriotism,” she said.
Republicans said requiring the singing of the national anthem would increase patriotism.
“Can you teach patriotism?” said Republican Rep. Janel Brandtjen. “Yes, by singing this song you can and you can have the conversations about how great this country is.”
The requirement would apply at all levels of athletic events played on a field that ever received public money, from a bar league softball game at the local park to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
“Sporting event” is not defined, raising the question of whether the anthem would have to be sung every time someone gets together for a pickup game of football at the city park or plays a softball game on a municipal field.
There is no penalty for violating the requirement, so even if the bar league softball team skipped the national anthem, there would be no repercussion under the law.
The Wisconsin Parks and Recreation Association said it supported the intent of the bill, but questioned the need for it and how it would be implemented. The Wisconsin American Legion and VFW Department of Wisconsin backed the bill.
“If the soul of this country could sing, it would sing the national anthem,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Tony Kurtz. “And you know what? I’m not going to apologize for that. I’m proud of it.”
Democratic Rep. Don Vruwink, who taught history at Milton High School and coached basketball, football and softball, said he estimated that he’s heard the national anthem at least 2,500 times. Requiring the anthem to be played before every game on virtually every field on the state will devalue the meaning of the anthem and is also unworkable.
“I don’t want the national anthem to be disingenuous,” he said. “I want people to think about the words and what is being said.”
The bill came comes after the Dallas Mavericks did not play “The Star-Spangled Banner” before home games last season. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban agreed to play the national anthem after the NBA reiterated its policy to require the song.
“When a billionaire can say at his whim, ‘I don’t want to play it,’ that’s a problem,” Kurtz said, “I’m proud of our national anthem, I’m proud of our flag, I’m proud of our nation and I’m not afraid to say you need to play this.”
“The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t played regularly at professional sporting events prior to its designation as the national anthem in 1931, although it grew in popularity after a dramatic airing at the 1918 World Series during World War I. By the end of World War II, the NFL ordered it played at every game and the tradition quickly spread to other sports as part of a wave of post-war patriotism.