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Nancy Smith

I Take a Knee to Playing the National Anthem at Sporting Events

September 26, 2017 - 12:00pm

Probably we're not going to stop singing the National Anthem every time somebody gathers a crowd and produces a bouncing ball. But I can dream.

For decades I've questioned the wisdom of performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before every football, baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey game -- yes, professional, college, high school and youth league. Even NASCAR drivers won't start their engines until the National Anthem plays.

It's not the law of the land. Nobody has mandated the performance of the anthem on playing fields. But it has become culturally ingrained in our sports psyche, like team colors. 

If we wanted, we could get past this, elevate a song that represents the country we hold dear to a far more sacred standard.

Thanks to President Trump's pronouncement that owners should "fire" all players who don't stand during the anthem -- never mind that it's an absurdly disappointing thing to say coming from the leader of the freest country on the planet -- we have the perfect occasion to consider adiosing this abused tradition.

Let's look at how sporting events got to be appropriate venues for "O say can you see ..."

It's no coincidence the anthem's first surge in popularity came during wartime. Nationalism stoked by World War I meant people were more affected by the song, and the fact that Major League baseball players were being actively drafted meant those who weren't drafted benefited from showing their patriotism. Over time, other sports began adopting the practice.

Historian Marc Ferris wrote a history of the national anthem. He points out that, at first, the anthem was a costly extra. "The thing is, you had to hire a band," he told NPR in 2016. "That was expensive, so it was only for special occasions," like opening day.

Ferris says after World War II, parks could cut out the expense of hiring bands. Sound systems allowed teams and parks to play the anthem easily. That's when the practice became particularly widespread, because the new tech coincided with a huge swell in patriotism.

I like to think the anthem serves its highest purpose when it brings us, members of the nation, together as one and stirs up national pride. By definition, an anthem is "a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause."

I like to think every time it's played, we shouldn't be -- as, sadly, sports fans always are -- cheering impatiently toward the end to get the song over with and the game under way. It should be reminding Americans just how great our nation is and how lucky we are to live here. From first note to last, it should make us aware of the sacrifices it took to make it that way. 

Just lately, we cheapen our national song by politicizing it -- athletes by using it to protest racial and social injustice, the president by using it to score points with his right-wing base and violate the spirit and intent of a First Amendment that guarantees the rights of all Americans to protest peacefully. 

Bottom line, we're using it to make statements that reflect anger and divisiveness instead of pride. 

The only sports arena deserving of our anthem is an international field of competition -- the World Cup, the Olympics, any event in which the United States competes as a nation against another nation. 

I first began to question the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" at sporting events in 1990. That's when Roseanne Barr famously butchered the song before a San Diego Padres-Cincinnati Reds game in San Diego. Barr capped off the abhorrent display by grabbing her crotch and spitting into the turf. I was there, I saw it, I never forgot it and it is captured forever on YouTube

Our national anthem deserves better than that. After President Trump's profane rant over the weekend, I fear the song that should stir patriotism and pride in all Americans will become a battleground from which it may never recover. Players are more united with protesters today than they were before the president tried to bully them and their owners.

All we need to end it is one courageous league president to say, "We've had enough. Our football/baseball/basketball/soccer/hockey players will come out and get straight on with the game. No more National Anthem." It wouldn't fix everything, but it would be a start.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

 


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Comments

I could not agree with you less... As a veteran, and a US Citizen, I get goose bumps still to this day every single time I hear the anthem. I don't think we need to reserve it just for special occasions to realize just how lucky we are to live in the greatest country in the world and the sacrifices that were made to make it that way... If you knew what the song means, why it was written, how it was written, and the ultimate sacrifices that were made to preserve it, you would never use it for political or social purposes, not if you were a man or woman of integrity and honor anyway. Free speech is free speech, but use another method to get your point across, other than to minimize this great country, the flag and the ultimate sacrifices made to preserve it.

Oh forget it, Nancy. Get it together and stop taking the stupid point of view. Next, I might boycott your column for even your suggestion of eliminating the National Anthem. .

First historical monuments; then the national anthem. What's next?

Historical monuments? They aren't historical monuments. They are a celebration of a way of life that was abhorrent and was snuffed out. History belongs in a museum not on a soap box that gives the illusion that it was all ok. The author poses a good point - if we can all get along with each others opinion regarding what one should do during the national anthem, then solve the problem by eliminating the cause. I'd prefer we respect each other's rights.

Great column. Some say that governments have a vested interest in sports because the dueling teams appeals to people's inherent barbarianism and thus helps to prevent wars. But while all these alleged "great patriots" like Trump are at it, why not stop the ultra-costly military jet sports arena flyovers? I live in an area where these muti-million dollar jets "warm up" before heading to the stadium . . . they circle for a good half an hour, burning taxpayer-funded fuel the entire time. It's offensive, quite frankly.

I'm not very emotional but, I sense a swelling of pride when there's a military flyover, paratrooper active display, or anything else which brings 'OUR' country to the forefront! I've been paying taxes long enough to realize there's lots of waste here, in the good old U.S.A. and the benefits of these displays far outweigh the negatives. Offensive? Perhaps to your ears, but as an American, it should help you feel and believe that America if First!

Then supporting organizations like the ACLU, First Amendment Foundation and others that protect and advocate for our Constitutional rights should give you an even greater feeling. I saw a Navy Veteran tweet yesterday that he would like to see people stand for the anthem, but he first and foremost enlisted to give people the right NOT to stand. It recalls to me the days and months after 9-11, when, if you even walked out the door without your flag pin, you were a Commie

You may find it a waste of time and money.. but it hones their skills and team co-ordination.. it's a training mission as well as a show of power.. Be proud we have it.. sorry you hear the warm up etc.. I live in an area were helicopters train.. I understand.. but if I ever need a life flight to a hospital.. I'll sure be glad they are well trained..

I'd like (hope) to think that first responders and military pilots aren't deriving all their training from sports arena flyovers. Actual training is one thing . . . frivolity and good feelings at taxpayer expense are another. I equate flyovers to fireworks displays. While first responders aren't getting raises for years, and often have to deal with aging facilities and equipment, not to mention reduced pensions, "patriots" are feeling very great as they cheer things like flyovers and expensive fireworks displays on July 4 and other occasions. I'm not saying all of that doesn't make us all feel good, including myself . . . but real patriotism isn't about a feel-good display. It's an understanding of the fundamentals of how our country and government works and what it all means. And supporting that understanding through education and advocacy . . . which includes support of peaceful protests and, of course, free expression of alternative points of view.

Bingo!

If I understand, theses actions are designed to stamp out patriotism. No more National Anthem? What next? Why not the NFL? If one doesn't like our country find one they do and move.

I agree Pashley, just where does it all end? Demands from various foreigners wanting more, or different, makes me laugh at them. If it's so bad here, go back! The NFL players are supposed to be an educated bunch, but the NFL teams, whose owners seem to be weak-kneed when it comes to some of their players, will eventually realize less profits & smaller salaries.(see major league baseball's strike) My tickets are already gone into the garbage and I will not return to any game with prima donnas playing.

You don't understand! The author states very clearly the idea isn't about patriotism. In fact she goes out of her way to to so. It's about the foundation of our constitution - the RIGHT to free speech - which includes the right NOT to engage in speech. It pains me when I hear the hypocrisy of anyone who claims to be for freedom and yet feels compelled to legislate restrictions on freedoms they don't particularly care for. For example, one has a right to bare arms but not to reproductive choice. Try and justify it however you like but it is hypocrisy plain and simple.

the "Right to free speech" does not apply to the work place. These guys are at work. They can say and do whatever they want on their own time - just not when people are paying good money to watch them perform/work or paying good money to advertise during their performances.

Bingo. Hypocrisy. Plain and simple. And Trump was overheard at dinner last night gloating about how well his NFL remarks are "going over." Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans are suffering.

Did you hear that on CNN? LOL! President Trump spoke directly with Puerto Rico's Governor yesterday on a live feed, you might want to listen to exactly what was said and then come back and eat your words. As for calling out the losers in the NFL you might also want to read the United States LAW Title 36, Chapter 10 PATRIOTIC CUSTOMS §171. National anthem; Star-Spangled Banner, conduct during playing

I agree.. this country made you what you are.. Love it or Leave it.

Substitute "us" for "you" and you have it.

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