Controversy in Portland? Brandon Roy and the National Anthem

By: 11.25.09  •  49 Comments
Brandon Roy (photo. Aaron Hewitt)

Brandon Roy (photo. Aaron Hewitt)

Now that somebody has called attention to it, let’s see how this one plays out.

In today’s Oregonian, columnist John Canzano writes about something most people didn’t even know about Brandon Roy: That he takes the time during the every-game playing of the National Anthem to say a prayer. By himself. In the tunnel and away from the court. An excerpt from that column:

It is not a political statement. It is not a protest. He said it is not intended as a slap on patriotism, or the ongoing war but Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy has long been absent from the Rose Garden Arena floor during the national anthem.

For two seasons now, Roy leaves the court before “The Star Spangled Banner” is performed. He waits out of sight, in the arena tunnel, and has a quiet moment of prayer while his teammates stand and honor America together.

Something about that feels troubling.

Roy is the Blazers captain, and leader, and two-time All Star. And while I understand his desire to have a personal moment to gather his thoughts, I think there is ample time for a meditative moment in the hours leading to the game and I worry that the statement he’s making is one of individualism.

I hate stories like this, where people who don’t even know a man get to criticize his patriotism, or lack thereof. Not saying Canzano doesn’t know Roy — he’s been covering the team closely ever since Roy arrived — but fans and other media types will get ahold of this story and have their way with it.

Understand, I grew up in a family where some people will blatantly turn their back on the Anthem. I got the same speeches and propaganda that every Black child in inner-city America gets; the one that doesn’t paint America out to be the greatest place in the world. I was taught that men like Muhammad Ali, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Craig Hodges were admirable for taking a stance against the U.S. government and this country’s patriotic practices. So my natural leaning is to let whoever doesn’t want to stand in line for the Anthem do their thing; to let every man be his own man.

But that’s not the point. Canzano brought up an interesting question: While we’re still waiting for a national reaction on B-Roy, what if it were Rudy Fernandez not making himself visible during the Anthem? And this wasn’t mentioned in the column, but what if it were Darius Miles or Ruben Patterson or one of the other infamous players from the “Jail Blazers” era?

My question: What will the reaction be to Roy — one of the NBA’s known good guys — and how will it compare to the reaction people had to Abdul-Rauf? Years ago when Abdul-Rauf caused an Anthem-related controversy, he was doing the same thing Roy is doing now: praying. The two differences are that Abdul-Rauf expressed political reasons behind not standing for the Anthem, and he was praying a Muslim prayer. Roy, presumably, is praying a Christian prayer.

“It’s not me doing some (star-treatment) thing,” Roy told reporters, “Kobe Bryant is out there for the Anthem. It’s just something I’ve done for the last two years to have a quiet moment to myself.”

Odds are, now that it’s come to light, Roy will probably start falling in line to avoid a bigger controversy. I’ve known Roy personally since we were both in elementary school. His good-guy reputation isn’t an act. He doesn’t deserve to have his patriotism questioned, but we’ve seen how these things turn out. Even in Portland, where he’s a beloved figure on a beloved team, expect to hear at least a couple of boos the next time he takes the court.

I really hope this doesn’t become a bigger, blown out of proportion story. And that might sound like a wish counter-productive to the fact that I just called more attention to it, but I wanted to see what readers think of the Anthem practice and our attitudes around it.

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