Celtics' Jaylen Brown Discusses Racial Implications of National Anthem

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2020

Boston Celtics' Jaylen Brown plays against the Houston Rockets during an NBA basketball game in Boston, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Boston Celtics guard/forward Jaylen Brown spoke with reporters Sunday about the national anthem and the problematic racial implications of its third verse following his team's 128-124 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

"Angela Davis once said that racism is so dangerous not because of individual actors but because it's deeply embedded in the apparatus. I think about that quote a lot when I think about the national anthem, which was written by Francis Scott Key, who was a slave owner. When we talk about the national anthem, we don't really talk a lot about the third verse that was written, which addresses slavery and mentions there's no hope for a hireling or slave but the gloom of the grave. So racism is so deeply embedded in our country that people don't even flinch or even shift at the idea. It kind of is what it is.  

"It's not the protests, it's not the police officers, the police brutality—it is, all that is important—but it's also the framework of systemic oppression, and that started with the national anthem. I think being able to take a knee is appropriate, and it may not even really be enough. But I'm proud of the NBA being a part of the right side of how people feel."

To provide further context on Brown's remarks, the third verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner" reads as follows:

"And where is that band who so vauntingly swore / That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion / A home and a country should leave us no more? / Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution / No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave / And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave / O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave."

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

The precise interpretation of that verse has been up for debate, but associate professor of musicology and American culture at the University of Michigan, Mark Clague, broke down his interpretation of "hireling and slave" for CNN.com:

"Hirelings were the professional British troops. Key's mocking them for doing it for the money, along with their stealing and ransoming. They were like pirates. And I think 'slaves' is a reference to the Colonial Marines, who were slaves held captive by the Americans that escaped and were offered the opportunity to fight on the British side to earn freedom."

Journalist and historian Marc Leepson analyzed the "gloom of the grave" line:

"To me, that's Key reacting as a slave owner. [The slaves leaving to join the British] is the unpatriotic act that he calls the 'perilous flight,' and he threatens them with the 'gloom of the grave.' To summarize his feelings about it: At the very least, these are not the sentiments of a man who has warm feelings about slaves or enslaved people and those who flew to the side of the British."

Clague also wrote in a separate column for CNN.com that Key was a slave owner and had seven slaves via inheritance. As a United States attorney, he also argued cases against abolitionists.