National Anthem Etiquette in Sports

Do you follow proper National Anthem Etiquette? Here’s what to do when you hear the singing of the National Anthem at a sporting event.

Almost halfway through the baseball season and nearing the beginning of football season, game day rituals are in full force. A common game day ritual, prior to the start of any sporting event, is singing the National Anthem. (Read more about the National Anthem Lyrics & History) What is the proper etiquette during the singing of the National Anthem?

Twins National Anthem

According to the United States Flag Code, “When the national anthem is played or sung, citizens should stand at attention and salute at the first note and hold the salute through the last note. The salute is directed to the flag, if displayed, otherwise to the music.” Unless a military member in uniform, citizens should stand at ‘salute’ by placing their hand over their heart, facing the American Flag.

Near the end of last football season, Carolina Panthers tight end Jeremy Shockey publicly made it clear how proper etiquette for the singing of the National Anthem is necessary to show respect for the flag and those who fought for it. He criticized several Houston Texan players for not putting their hand over the heart as the National Anthem was performed.

Kelly Clarkson Superbowl National Anthem

The same case was true on the night of Super Bowl XLVI. As Kelly Clarkson sang her rendition of the National Anthem, the camera panned across a sold out Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Several players, coaches and fans did not have their hands over the hearts while the anthem was performed. New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin set a good example of how his team should pay tribute during the National Anthem’s, facing the American Flag and saluting.

Superbowl National Anthem

Sources: ABC News, Huffington Post, USFlag.org

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78 Replies to “National Anthem Etiquette in Sports

  1. At a college graduation do graduates and faculty remove their caps during the national anthem?

      1. Why would a cap and gown company have anything to say about this? If there is a United States Flag Code how can they override the proper etiquette? What are the rules for religious headgear?

      2. Just take your hat off, your injury risk is very low considering the suffering of the people that fought to give you the right to ask your question.

  2. Thats good to know! I had no idea that when you salute the flag when you aren’t military personnel in uniform it was hand over your heart…. i thought it was just stand at attention.

    1. You’ll note that their comment about citizens saluting by putting their hands over their hearts was NOT within the quoted section of the United States Flag Code. If that were in there, it would’ve been quoted. It’s just opinion. Stand, yes. Hat off, yes. But hand over heart? Personal preference.

      1. I was born in 1968. In school we were taught to put our right hand over our heart both for the nation anthem and for the pledge of allegience. I don’t care what anyone else does, but I know why the flag stood the morning after the bombs struck the fort. The bodies of those dead soldiers and the men kept running up to it to hold it up knowing they would probably die and they did it anyway so our flag would not fall to the ground in defeat to the British. All so we could have a free country.

    2. Only in the past few days have I heard you should put your,hand over your heart. Was there a change I did not know about?

      1. This from the National Flag Code:

        Title 36 United States Code:
        § 301. National Anthem.
        (a) Designation. — The composition consisting of the words and music known as
        the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
        (b) Conduct During Playing. — During a rendition of the national anthem —
        (1) when the flag is displayed —
        (A) all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag
        with the right hand over the heart;
        (B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and
        hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and
        (C) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the
        anthem and maintain that position until the last note.
        (2) When the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music
        and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

        Placing your hand over your heart is the correct etiquette, but it is not a law. We see this question quite frequently, and we believe that the confusion lies in not the proper etiquette not being taught consistently, especially when growing up. The reason why some people are taught to place their hand over their heart and some people aren’t is not something we are sure of. Interesting topic!

        You can find the complete flag code here: https://www.collinsflags.com/flagCodeExample.pdf

        We hope this answers your questions!

        1. This forum is excellent for gaining knowledge. Thank you for having it…What should we do to someone we see not follow etiquette during the anthem? For example: if they remain sitting or seated? Should we confront them? Should we report them to the authorities?

  3. Actually, etiquette prior to the October 2008 change to the flag code was to only stand at attention during the national anthem. When they added that veterans (not just active duty) were allowed to do a military salute, they added the statement about civilians “should” salute with hand over heart. Tradition is to only stand at attention.

    1. §171. Conduct during playingDuring rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.

        1. Pat and James seem to be correcting Daniel, but I can’t find dates to their citations. Daniel said it was changed in 2008.

          I’m curious myself, because I grew up standing and first about putting your hand and your heart when Jeremy Shockey reacted indignantly.

          1. I have a U.S. Flag code flyer produced and distributed by Annin & Co. that states to be in accordance with the 7 July, 1976 amendment to the Flag Code ( Public Law 94-345, 94th Congress. S.J. Red 49).
            All present not in uniform hand over heart, remove hats and place on left shoulder so their hand is over their heart.
            This is to be done both for Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem.

    2. I guess both would be tradition depending on who you are and your upbringing. We were taught to face the flag with hand over your heart. The main thing being fface the flag with your full attention and reverence.
      Big country with thousands of small towns. Im sre many people learned differently and that is their heritage.
      The main idea is to shw reverence to the flag like you mean it and dont be a slouch.

    3. Here are the former subparagraphs, prior to 2008:

      2008—Subsec. (b)(1)(A) to (C). Pub. L. 110–417 added subpars. (A) to (C) and struck out former subpars. (A) to (C) which read as follows:

      “(A) all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart;

      “(B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

      “(C) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note; and”.

  4. Situation: collegiate football game. A large American flag is flying from the highest point in the stadium. A color guard is also on the field carrying the flag. When the national anthem starts does it matter which flag you face?

  5. After reading this article any respect for the coaches and the players who disrespected the national anthem and the flag during the ceremony it is all gone.

  6. I, too, have a question. If you are watching a sporting event at a sports bar, do you have to stand for the National Anthem? Or if you are at someone’s house watching a game on tv?

    1. This is completely up to you. Some stand and take off hats because they consider themselves “a part of the audience”. Whatever you chose to do is up to you. There is no written etiquette on this.

  7. The same goes for MLB. Prince Fielder does not put his hand on his heart. He was born in America so I am not sure what is his excuse. It is so disrespectful!

  8. What is the flag edict for watching a game on TV? If I am at home or a sports bar, should I remove my hat when the National Anthem is played?

      1. Makes no sense. If it is the flag and anthem being respected the logic will dictate that the behavior be the same (as long as the situation allows) else its all for show not true respect.

  9. What are the rules for flying a Canadian and US Flag at the same time during both anthems? Is the Canadian flag allowed to be flown alongside the US flag during the US National Anthem?

    1. when the Canadian and the American national anthem are to be played at a hockey game in the United States, which one is to be played LAST, Thanks for your assistance

        1. Then why do Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies lead with the Greek flag being Greece was the FIRST host city (1896) and NOT a guest and you say “You always lead with the guests anthem”? I know your statement referred to the anthem, but seeing as the question was about the flag, hence my comment and question…

  10. I am so happy that you gave such good instructions for respect for our Beloved American Flag.
    I am 87 years old and it is so important that my family all in the service of our country are glad you all love and respect our flag.
    Thank you all for your service and love for Our beloved United States of America..
    Long may our flag fly HIGH… GOD BLESS AMERICA and all that we stand for…especially
    Love of country
    God bless you ALL…
    My love to all . Merry CHRISTmas and a Happy New Year..Glory to GOD.
    Mama Jane

  11. “Unless a military member in uniform, citizens should stand at ‘salute’ by placing their hand over their heart, facing the American Flag.” ~ that’s not in the United States Flag Code. That’s this website’s editorializing. Only recently has it become fashionable to require citizens to place their hand over their hearts. I get choked up at the NA, and sing it every time, and I’ve never put my hand over my heart. And I’ll be damned if someone’s going to tell ME that I’M not patriotic because of it.

    1. §171. Conduct during playingDuring rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.
      I know they have been doing this since I was a child
      I’m 47

  12. Given that basketball games are generally played “indoors” and many other sports are now in closed domed stadiums (indoors), should military personnel in uniform wear their head gear “indoors” and should they salute the Colors during the playing/singing if the National Anthem or simply stand at attention? Has any official directives for US military personnel been issued covering this?

    1. It’s generally customary to take your head gear off once you’ve entered a building. As to the other questions we aren’t exactly certain what the protocol here is, much of it depends on the branch and commanding officers stance on the subject. Sorry we couldn’t be more help!

  13. Hi, New to this comment board.
    I would like to know the opinion of you all about something that has gone on for years in Arizona.

    The teams at Arizona State University stand at attention for the National Anthem (as they should) but their hand over their heart is some times their “fork” gesture, if not that hand it’s the hand behind their back making the “fork” gesture.

    See this years baseball team, they are obviously proud of this since this picture is on their web page.
    http://www.thesundevils.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=30300&ATCLID=210735089
    http://image.cdnllnwnl.xosnetwork.com/pics33/800/YS/YSAOBETDDZDORDU.20160222143526.jpg

    The student section is even more disrespectful. Instead of their hand over their heart many hold their hand out (much like the Nazi salute) with their fingers making the “fork” gesture. Then at the end of the anthem where it should be “The home of the brave.” The the students yell out “DEVILS” instead of “BRAVE.”

    During a basketball game
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dqekFmTlBk
    At 1:25 of the clip. Yes, even during a trombone choir.

    Here’s another basketball game.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isr2mdjAoUk
    At 1:23 of the clip. You can see a ball boy throw out his “fork” gesture.

    I have complained to their AD, their President, and even the AZ Board of Regents that run the University system, but nothing has changed.

    I feel the National Anthem is to salute the Nation, NOT any one school or group.

    If you feel as I do, maybe more voices can change this behavior, my one voice hasn’t done any good.

    Arizona State’s AD is Ray Anderson
    Vice President for University Athletics
    Ray.Anderson@asu.edu

    Arizona State’s president is Michael Crow
    president@asu.edu

    Jay Heiler – Chair
    Arizona Board of Regents
    https://www.azregents.edu/contact-us

  14. I’m 69 years old and was a Cub Scout 60 years ago. We learned you salute if you are in uniform during the singing of the National Anthem and stand at attention if you are not. I don’t get the idea that putting your hand over your heart is a “salute”. It’s an anthem — a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause — not a funeral dirge.

  15. I cannot find the correct protocol for this. I am a baseball umpire calling a game on a High School campus. Our game starts at 3:30 in the afternoon. At 5:00 in the Football Stadium which is across the campus they start a Field Hockey game and the play the National Anthem. We are at an intermission because we are between innings and the defense is warming up their arms. Do we stop our game and face the flag?

    1. Because you probably held your own National Anthem before the baseball game you wouldn’t be required to stop and observe the flag. However, I’m sure veterans in the crowd would be very moved with the gesture if you did. This is one of those go off your own intuition moments. There isn’t a written protocol on this it’s just whatever you feel most comfortable with.

  16. When the National Anthem is sung, should everyone sing along or only if invited by the annoncer/soloist/group? Also if it is just played, should everyone sing?

    1. There is no etiquette made for the audience when it comes to singing the national anthem. This is one of those, ‘do what you feel most comfortable with’ scenarios. Many people sing during the Anthem to show respect while others stand silent to observe. Whatever works for you!

  17. I am 72, and was taught as a child to put my hand over my heart during the national anthem as well as the pledge of allegiance, and whenever a flag passed by in a parade, etc. The anthem belongs to all citizens and we should all know the words and be proud to sing them. IT should not be a solo performance by anybody. IT makes my blood boil when I hear of coaches telling children not to sing, and when these singers get up and do a stylized version in a way that no one can sing with them. BY the way, I was taught that applause afterward is inappropriate, the same as it is following a prayer or a hymn. THe word anthem really means hymn. THink about it.

  18. (1) National Anthem. The National Anthem honors the flag and should be accorded the same respect given the flag. You are to show proper respect to the flag and the National Anthem both indoors and outdoors.
    (a) Indoors. At public or military events, you are required to stand at attention during the playing of the National Anthem whether in uniform or civilian clothes, and remain silent. If in CAP’s military-style uniform, you face the flag (if visible) or music but do not salute. In any other CAP uniform or in civilian clothes, you place your right hand over your heart. This does not apply when you hear the National Anthem on the radio or television.
    (b) Outdoors. In military-style uniform, you render the military salute, hold it and remain silent during the National Anthem. In any other CAP uniform or civilian clothes, stand at attention and place your right hand over your heart (Men should remove headdress with right hand and hold it over their heart.)
    (2) Retreat. On Air Force installations, the flag is lowered at the end of each day. Usually, the bugle call “Retreat” is sounded and is followed by the playing of either the National Anthem or “To the Colors.” If you are outside, you must stop what you are doing and face the flag. If in the military- style uniform, you stand at Parade Rest, during the sounding of “Retreat” then come to attention and salute during the playing of the National Anthem or “To the Colors.” If you are driving a vehicle, you are to stop and sit quietly until the music ends; your passengers also remain silent.
    (3) Pledge of Allegiance. Honors to the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance are similar to those rendered during the playing of the National Anthem or “To the Colors.”
    (a) Military Formations or Ceremonies. You do not recite the Pledge of Allegiance while in military formation.
    (b) Outdoors. When in military-style uniform, you stand at attention, face the flag, remain silent, and salute.
    (c) Indoors. When in military-style uniform, stand at attention, face the flag, but do not salute. You may recite the pledge indoors.
    (d) Civilian Dress. When in civilian clothes (indoors or outdoors), you should stand at attention, face the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance while holding your right hand over your heart. (Men should remove headdress and hold with right hand over their heart.)
    (4) Parades. In military-style uniform, you salute the flag as it passes in front of you. In civilian attire, come to attention until the flag passes.
    (5) Foreign Flags. When you are visiting in a foreign country, you must show the same respect to the host country’s flag and national anthem that you show to your own. The same is true when another country’s national anthem is played during formal ceremonies in the United States.

    Please see knowledgebase answer(s) below for additional details.

    Answer 2019: USAF Style and CAP Distinctive Uniforms Answer Link

    Answer 1013: Protocol for the flag and during the Pledge of Allegiance Answer Link

    Answer 1998: Rendering honors to the flag Answer Link

  19. I am very annoyed at REAL Salt Lake Major League Soccer games because many of the fans will yell “boom!” after the “bombs bursting in air” section of the anthem which is usually sung by a soloist artist. Is it proper to do this? I was always taught to be silent, except for singing the anthem, and reverent. This seems to be very disrespectful to both the Anthem and the singer. Am I wrong to think that?

  20. I just came upon this site and found it very interesting.
    Earlier today I saw a photograph taken at an event. There were 7or 8 elected officials or politicians standing in a line while the National Anthem was played and the only person without his or her had over their heart was our president…appalling!

  21. Curious. Why is the national anthem always played at sporting events? It’s not always played at other big gatherings, such as orchestra concerts, or plays, or festivals.

    And what exactly are we paying respects to? Is it just the military members who have died in battle, or the active military, or is it everyone in public service, or is it something else? Like respecting national ideals of promoting freedom, democracy?

    I guess I never really thought about too much. I always just stood at attention. But I’m curious what others think.

  22. The hand over the heart probably got started with grade school children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance when the pledge was reinforced with the right hand over the heart. Those children used the same hand over heart when confronted with the ceremony of standing at attention for the National Anthem at baseball games. More and more people saw this and felt they were missing something and copied the action. There should be nothing so pledge-like about respecting the National Anthem. Let the Hand on the Bible or Hand over the Heart remain for a Pledge, not for respect.

  23. Have respect for the men and women who fought to keep America the way it should be. I myself respect them all. I salute you all thank you so much God bless youall

  24. Based what have I have been able to find and as former Airmen, there is no mandatory requirement to stand for the national anthem unless you are Military in uniform. Besides, I have not been able find any requirements for the national anthem to be played at any sports except the Olympic. The National Anthem at sports is a tradition not a Law.

    1. We are unsure of the answer to that question. It appears as though it has changed somewhat over time from what we can tell through observing peoples actions, but we cannot give a definitive answer to your question.

  25. Google the “Defense Authorization Act” which was signed in 2008 and later adjusted in 2009, and that is the latest on clearing up any and all confusion.

  26. I have a question about Jr football programs and High School football. For many years at the end of the nation anthem “land of the free” they would raise their helmets, cheer leaders raised their Pom poms it was great. Now the stand at with their hands over their heart butnothing at the end. Is their a reason that they would have stopped raising their helmets? For the last game my son held up his helmet alone and after was told he disrespected his team!?

    1. We are not sure that we can answer your question with certainty. With all of the recent attention brought to National Anthem etiquette in sports, it is certainly an area that is under much more criticism as of lately. We believe that disrespect comes from mainly from intent, and we don’t believe that your son intended to offend anyone by holding up his helmet. People talk often ask about proper etiquette and mention that what has traditionally been accepted over the years has changed over time. We are not sure why that is either. Very interesting question. Sorry we could not provide a definitive answer!

  27. I have a question about Jr football programs and High School football. For many years at the end of the nation anthem “land of the free” they would raise their helmets, cheer leaders raised their Pom poms it was great. Now they stand in line with their hands over their heart but nothing at the end. Is their a reason that they would have stopped raising their helmets? For the last game my son held up his helmet alone and after was told he disrespected his team!?

    1. There is no written etiquette on this. We recommend doing what you feel most comfortable doing in this case. In our opinion, the most respectful thing to do would be to honor the national anthem as if you were there. Again, there is no written etiquette on following the National Anthem on television so it is entirely up to you. Great question!

  28. I am a 70 year old native American, and I was never taught in school that one must stand and cover your heart when the National Anthem is played. Look at the stands, sometime, and you will not find everyone standing with their hand over their hearts. That does not mean any disrespect to the American Flag or the National Anthem, it simply means that “displays of respect” differ in many cultures. I find no disrespect in the fact that players drop to one knee during the Anthem, they are, after all, giving it their full attention. They just have additional issues they want respected, and the least disruptive way to call attention to them is to drip to one knee. After all, when we pray are we not expected to conform to practices of our church? I do not see dropping to one knee as disrespect. In some cultures it might even be meant AS a sign of respect. Don’t be so quick to be judgemental. After all, are we not urged to be tolerant of the ways of others?

  29. If you are at a sporting event but you are not at your seat (lets say I’m at the concession stand getting some food) and the national anthem is playing in the background, do I need to stand still to the end of the song or I can keep going since I’m not at me seat?

    1. Bo, while we aren’t aware of any specific code regarding when you are on your way to your seat at a sporting event, we don’t believe there is a downside to stopping what you’re doing to show regard to Old Glory.

  30. At some sporting events I attend a military guard (armed forces, ROTC, etc.) brings the flag out to the floor or the field and the National Anthem is played. Afterwards, the flag is retired by the military guard. Is it proper etiquette to begin the festivities prior to the flag being retired from the playing field or floor?

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