Tenor Will Sing Anthem at N.F.L. Game but Supports Athletes’ Kneeling Protests

By MICHAEL COOPER

OCT. 23, 2016

Lawrence Brownlee performing in the opera “La Donna Del Lago” at the Metropolitan Opera last year. CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

The movement to protest racial oppression by not standing during the national anthem is now reverberating from the sports world to the world of opera.

Lawrence Brownlee, a star tenor who sings at the Metropolitan Opera and other leading opera houses and is African-American, said he felt “torn in two different directions” when he was asked to sing the anthem at Sunday’s game between the New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens.

“Being the son of a veteran, I know the power of the anthem and how much it means to people like my father and those who love our great country, and how it was the last thing many soldiers sang as they gave their lives in battle fighting for the freedoms that we enjoy,” he said in a statement on Sunday. “And I am grateful for the fact I have far more opportunities to succeed today as a man of color than my ancestors who were alive when the anthem was written.”

But Mr. Brownlee, who has made a specialty of difficult bel canto roles, said he could not ignore the mounting protests in which athletes have chosen to kneel silently during the anthem to protest racial oppression and police brutality, which were started by the N.F.L. quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who was in the same fraternity as Mr. Brownlee, Kappa Alpha Psi.

“It is an act of protest which I agree with and support wholeheartedly,” Mr. Brownlee said, “for while I remain hopeful that we as a people are gradually moving towards equality in all areas, I still believe that much needs to change in our society in regards to the policing and mistreatment of minorities.”

So he had wrestled with the question of whether to sing, or stand in silent solidarity. “But in the end,” he wrote, “I decided to use the voice that God has given me to sing – to sing with the conflicting emotions that pull at my heart … the honor, the pride, the frustration, the sadness … Colin Kaepernick’s message, the hope of my ancestors, and the sacrifice of those who gave their lives protecting our flag.”

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