After receiving an invitation to sing O Canada at Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks game, Arielle Tuliao broke down in tears.
“I cried when I got the news,” she said. “I was just in shock.”
Tuliao, 28, is a veteran anthem singer, having performed for Vancouver’s Canucks, Whitecaps and Canadians, as well as Rugby Canada, the UBC Thunderbirds and the Seattle Sounders. But this is her first invite to sing for the Seahawks, who will celebrate “Canada Day” Sunday afternoon versus the Indianapolis Colts, honouring their large and ever-growing Canadian fan base with a special ceremony and Canada’s anthem.
It will undoubtedly be a different experience, and not just because it will likely be Tuliao’s biggest, loudest crowd. The anthem portion of NFL games has taken on a decidedly different tone of late, thanks in large part to U.S. President Donald Trump. A few days after Tuliao was invited to sing, the president held a rally in Alabama where he called for the firing of any athlete who dares exercise his First Amendment right to protest by kneeling for the Star-Spangled Banner.
That sparked a wave of protests and demonstrations around the league the following Sunday, most of which involved kneeling in defiance. It also injected a lot of unnecessary drama into Tuliao’s life.
“The first thought that went through my mind was, 45 (Trump is the 45th president) strikes again,” said Tuliao. “Of course he does.”
Tuliao admitted the controversy left her feeling conflicted about whether she should do something during her performance to show that she, and her country, stand with the players and their fight for racial equality and freedom of expression.
Last Sunday, the Seahawks played in Tennessee, where anthem singer Meghan Linsey, a former contestant on “The Voice,” knelt after singing the national anthem to show solidarity with the players. Tuliao has considered something similar.
“There was a part of me that was like, ‘How do I show my support?,’ because here’s an opportunity for me to show my support for the players, but at the same time I’m singing the Canadian anthem and I don’t want to bring any unnecessary drama into my portion of this,” she said. “Do I keep it simple? Do I take this opportunity to be political? I just kept bouncing ideas back and forth up until the point when one of the Seahawks’ organization members called.”
It turned out that she wasn’t the only one stressing about the Canadian anthem. In a phone conversation Wednesday, Tuliao was told that the Seahawks had decided to cancel the second anthem. With all the unrest surrounding the Star-Spangled Banner, the club was wary about dragging O Canada into things.
“They said, unfortunately, we’ve decided not to do the anthems because of what’s happening,” Tuliao said. “There was a part of me that was relieved and a part of me that was sad.”
But on Thursday, the Seahawks reversed course. O Canada was back on. This, of course, meant that Tuliao’s conundrum was back on as well. But in the end, the singer said she’ll likely keep it simple and focus on what she’s been invited to do. Still, she’s not ruling out a gesture if the moment is right.
“The way that I’m looking at it now is my job is to sing for Canada, because that’s what I do, and to sing the anthem and to sing it well,” she said. “I’m going to go there and do my job, and if an opportunity presents itself in the moment to show my support for (the players), then I will.”
Tuliao added that she does plan to take a knee for the American anthem from the sidelines. “They’re protesting for their freedom. I think that’s why we as Canadians want to support them, because freedom is important to us, too.”