An announcement blares on the Wildwood boardwalk speakers every day at 11 a.m. in the summer: “Ladies and gentlemen, please pause and stand for the playing of our national anthem.”
Then, time freezes. The beachgoers stop. Store owners turn down their music. LeAnn Rimes’ voice takes over.
“It comes on and it’s instant — quiet descends over the boardwalk,” North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said. “It’s like somebody hit the pause button for 90 seconds.”
Rosenello calls it a sign of respect. And as debate rages nationally over whether NFL players should be able to protest racial injustice during “The Star-Spangled Banner” — by taking a knee, raising a fist, or locking arms — Rosenello views the behavior on the boardwalk as the standard.
“I take my hat off. I put my hand over my heart,” he said. “I tell my kids to do it.”
The playing of the anthem along the boardwalk, which stretches through Wildwood and North Wildwood, has happened as long as most residents can remember. Even Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr., who is 66 and lives on the street on which he was born, doesn’t quite know how or when it started.
“It’s just something that’s been done here forever,” he said.
Nevertheless, Wildwood residents take the anthem — born of a drinking song — seriously.
In 2016, after a clothing shop didn’t turn down its music during the anthem, more than 200 people carrying small American flags protested outside. Shirtique later put out a sign saying it had fired the employee who was responsible. (The store has since closed.)
Troiano said he believes anyone trying to protest during the anthem disrespects the flag.
“If you think there’s social injustice, then do something about it,” he said. “Instead of raising your fist.”
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the NFL anthem debate last year when he at first sat and then took a knee during the anthem, saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Players who followed his lead have said they are not trying to disrespect the flag but rather are bringing attention to systemic racism and police brutality against people of color.
The debate has divided Americans. Last weekend, President Trump said NFL owners should fire players who protest or don’t stand during the national anthem: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now.”
Outside the Eagles game Sunday, some fans verbally lashed out at protesters who chanted in favor of taking a knee. “I hate you! American made!” one fan yelled at the protesters.
Eagles fans and protesters clash over whether NFL players should be able to protest during national anthem. Warning: Strong language. pic.twitter.com/WaFX7NdyaN
— Michael Boren (@borenmc) September 24, 2017
In North Wildwood, Rosenello said he understands NFL players have the right to protest during the anthem. But he doesn’t think it’s right.
“I disagree with the message they are sending,” Rosenello said. “I personally think it is very disrespectful to military personnel who have literally died fighting for that flag.”
The Boardwalk Special Improvement District, which Rosenello leads, in addition to his duties as mayor, operates the sound system that plays the anthem. It was initially just instrumental music but changed seven years ago to Rimes’ rendition, which Rosenello said gets more attention.
The anthem plays every day from April through September.
It just stopped playing last weekend.