The events of the past few weeks have already revived a debate that sports leagues might have thought (and probably hoped) had been put to rest.
Will players kneel for the national anthem, and how will the leagues handle the potential backlash?”
This is not an article about whether or not players should be allowed to kneel for the anthem (they should). It’s also not about whether or not the leagues should support their right to do so (they also should).
It’s about a much bigger question that nobody is asking.
“Why are we even still doing this?”
This Isn’t Why We’re Here
If you go to a movie, a Broadway show or a rock concert, you don’t have to stand for the national anthem before the entertainment you paid to see.
Let’s be honest – people don’t come to a sporting event to hear the national anthem either. Fans are there to watch the game.
Everything else, including the national anthem, is a formality. A roadblock. A nuisance.
Fans aren’t at the game to honor America, or to support the troops. It’s not a military ceremony or a political rally.
Let’s Get This Over With
I’ve been to hundreds of athletic contests every year, from professional games to low-level college events. Most of the time, when I am on the PA and I finish announcing the starting lineups, people automatically amble to their feet.
They know what’s coming, and the general vibe is pretty much always the same: “Let’s get this over with.”
I have always used the same text as a PA Announcer: “Please rise and remove your hats as we honor America with the playing of the national anthem.”
But are we really honoring America? It’s more of an obligation than an honor.
I’ve had fill-in public address announcers who, to my displeasure, don’t stick to the script I give them and have asked people to rise to “salute America and those who protect our freedom at home and abroad.”
I always get a little queasy when they do that. Not just because they didn’t follow the script I wrote out for them, but because that’s not what we’re doing here.
That’s not to say playing the national anthem doesn’t have merit in many situations. But when you’re at a stadium to watch the Patriots or in a gym to cheer for your son or daughter, waiting for the song to be over is simply a chore.
Just tip it up and let’s play ball.
Why Do We Do It?
The first playing of the national anthem at a sporting event wasn’t even before a game.
In an attempt to perk up a somber war-time crowd, the US Navy band began to play the Star Spangled Banner during the 7th inning stretch at the 1918 World Series.
In 1931, the Star Spangled Banner became the official national anthem of the country, and NFL commissioner Elmer Layden sought to honor soldiers returning from World War II by ordering it played before every football game.
The NHL took the same action in 1946. In the 1960’s, they began playing both the American and Canadian anthems when teams from both countries were involved. Playing both anthems became a rule in 1987.
Are We Really Doing This For Our Country?
We don’t live in a militant country. At least not yet.
Everything we do doesn’t have to be for God and Country. We don’t pray before sporting events, at least not public ones, and we don’t have to sing either.
Unless the game is actually for country.
At an International Friendly at Gillette Stadium between the USA and Mexico? Sure, play the anthem. The Americans are playing.
At a Bruins, Red Sox, Celtics or Patriots game? Give me a break.
Half the hockey players are from Canada. The majority of baseball players are Latin American. The NBA is filled with Europeans. These teams don’t represent the United States of America. They barely represent their cities.
The NFL is a much larger percentage of American players because of the reach of the sport. So what? That’s not why they’re there.
Don’t even get me started on playing the national anthem of Canada when the Maple Leafs or Raptors are in town. That’s five minutes of our lives we can do something else with.
Just drop the puck already.
It Can Be Even More Meaningful
Playing the anthem on a more limited, intentional basis, would give more impact to its performance.
In fact, between 1918 and World War II, many other baseball stadiums did exactly that, play the song on holidays and special occasions.
Opening Day? Fourth of July? Memorial Day?
Sure, go ahead and play the anthem. It would be a great part of a special pre-game ceremony.
You want to parade out a local legend or an aging superstar to sing the anthem at the Super Bowl? Take it away, Whitney.
If nothing else, it’s another thing for degenerates to bet on.
Helping the Country Heal
At the first Bruins game back after the Boston Marathon bombings, beloved anthem singer Rene Rancourt started the Star-Spangled Banner, and then let the Boston crowd join in and sing the rest together.
That was a moment for the anthem. When there are extraordinary circumstances or moments in time when the country needs to heal, to celebrate, and to raise our voices and sing together.
After 9/11, George W. Bush threw out the first pitch of the World Series at Yankee Stadium in an emotional moment for the entire country.
This was a time that the sports world and the political sphere could come together and lift up the country.
On a Tuesday night in May in a nearly empty Tropicana Field before a game between the Rays and the Orioles?
Just throw the damn ball.
It’s Time to Stop
The flag is just an object. The anthem is just a song.
At one point, the national anthem was needed to lift the spirits of those who were coming home from war. Now, it divides people and creates much more anger than it does joy.
With apologies to a capella groups, teen pop stars and singer-songwriters who will lose out on performance opportunities, it’s time to make the anthem performance a special event.
Just play ball.
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