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‘It’s not forced patriotism’: Lawmaker makes emotional defense of bill requiring national anthem

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The Wisconsin State Assembly will vote Tuesday on a bill that would require the national anthem to be played before sporting events in any venue that has received public funding.

One of the bill's authors, Rep. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc), was moved to the point of tears while answering questions about the bill, particularly, whether he understood why some might perceive the requirement as forced patriotism.

"This country, for all the good we have had, for all the bad we have done - and we have - we are still one country, Kurtz said before a lengthy pause. "That's why, I want people to remember that."

Kurtz, a 20-year Army veteran, said he was not intending for the bill to punish professional athletes who've used the anthem as a platform for protests. It began with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was born in Milwaukee, and his decision in 2016 to begin kneeling during the national anthem.

"I fundamentally disagree with that and I should have a right to say 'I don't like that' but you know what? I served, thousands of others have served, so that he could [kneel]," Kurtz said.

It's a sore subject for a number of Black lawmakers, who say they are still bothered by GOP leaders moving to strip Kaepernick out of their list of people honored in a 2019 resolution for Black History Month.

Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) said he hoped the bill would not be used to coerce participation in the anthem or silence anyone who wanted to protest during the song.

"I hope we are not infringing on the rights, especially of athletes and those in sports, those in the sports world," Bowen said. "To be able to engage in whatever right to protest they'd like to engage in."

Bowen would not say Monday how he plans to vote on the bill. Instead, he said he wanted to hear out the bill's supporters during Tuesday's session. The bill cleared the committee on State Affairs with a 12-0 vote; the committee includes four Democrats, although none of them are Black.

"[The bill is] not something I'm just completely opposed to," Bowen said. "I definitely want to hear out my colleagues and get their insight of their intentions."

The bill would apply to the highest levels of Wisconsin sports; the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Milwaukee Bucks have all received public money for the construction and/or renovations of their facilities.

Kurtz said he was prompted to push the bill by the Dallas Mavericks' decision earlier this year to stop playing the anthem before games. The NBA eventually required all of its teams play the anthem before all games.

Kurtz went on to say he was more disturbed by the Packers' decision last September to stay in the locker room during the anthem before their first game in Minnesota.

It was the first NFL action since a turbulent summer of protest and renewed demands for police accountability following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and a Kenosha police officer shooting Jacob Blake - who at one point was holding a knife - seven times in the back, leaving him paralyzed.

"I actually have more respect for [Kaepernick] than for somebody that decides just not to play the National Anthem or, and I'll be very honest and I'm going to get in a lot of trouble for this, and I frankly don't care, in September 2020 when the Green Bay Packers stayed in the locker room instead of coming out to the field for the National Anthem," Kurtz said. "That once again, was a cop-out."

The Packers said at the time they opted to all stay in the locker so as to remain united in their action and not draw attention to which players stood and which ones knelt.

The bill does not have any kind of enforcement language so it's unclear whether real consequences exist for any venue should it choose not to play the anthem. It's also unclear whether Gov. Tony Evers would sign the bill should it reach his desk.

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