Archive for July, 2014

The Star-Spangled Hammer: A Plea to Stop Being Forced to Sing the National Anthem at Every Sporting Event

Posted in Uncategorized on July 1, 2014 by thebluebros

I can’t be the only sports fan in the world who gets annoyed when I sit down to watch a sporting event and am unwittingly forced to wait 2-3 minutes while an unknown singer gives me his/her rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” There’s got to be some other poor sap at home just trying to catch a few innings of the Richmond Flying Squirrels/Savannah Sand Gnats game before going to work, who now has to endure an unnecessary vocal performance by the 18th runner up from season 37 of American Idol.

Let me make clear that I’m not anti-national anthem. I of course understand the significance of the song. The imagery of war, the strong sense of patriotism, and the honoring of our national symbol. During times of war and tragedy, the Francis Scott Key-penned tune has served as a source of hope, comfort, and unity. The song is a way to honor our nation’s history, to bring to consciousness our amazing freedoms, and a way to remember those fallen heroes who gave their lives to protect and ensure the preservation of our liberties. Given all of these great things, what could possibly be wrong with singing the national anthem before a sporting event?

Well…a few things.

First of all, sports and nationalism is an arbitrary alliance. What does the national anthem have to do with a sporting event? Why do we save this patriotic ritual only for athletic events? What about singing the national anthem at work every day? What about at church? Or town hall meetings? Or graduations? Or in the classroom? The idea of tying the national anthem to a football game is just as arbitrary as singing Christmas carols at a monster truck rally. There’s no reason for it.

I read one person’s thought that the national anthem is a battle cry, one designed to strike fear in the heart of opponents. This makes sense when Americans are playing a foreign opponent (e.g. the Olympics), but in 99.9% of American sporting events, both teams are American. Is an opposing team supposed to be intimidated by the playing of its own national anthem? Playing the national anthem before a Lakers/Celtics game is akin to a boy telling his biological brother that, “My dad can beat up your dad.”

Very few people actually enjoy singing the national anthem. (An obvious exception is a woman at my undergraduate university who forced a gymnasium full of innocent college students to listen to her sing all four verses [Yes! The national anthem has four verses!] before a basketball game.) When the national anthem is sung, you usually see five groups of people: (1) The people who are visibly annoyed that they have to stand and remove their caps; (2) People who are so bored that they are leaning on the seat in front of them to keep from passing out; (3) People corralling screaming children in an effort to not draw attention to their disrespectful brats; (4) People who just don’t give a shit and are playing with their phone, talking, slurping on a hot dog, etc; and (5) The white guys over 60 who are pissed at the people in the other four categories. These same white guys are usually very surly over the fact that people are not standing up straight, not placing their hands in the right spot over their chests, not standing with their feet together, etc. In the end, no one is happy. Rather than uniting fellow Americans, the song usually just irritates people for varying reasons.

Finally, by having the national anthem sung at more than a million sporting events in the U.S. every year, we are inevitably subjected to the many performers who manage to screw up the lyrics, destroy the song with a bizarre interpretation, or just flat out disrespect it.

Some will disagree with my sentiments here and simply say, “What’s the big deal? It only takes a couple minutes. Besides, it’s nice that we can take a moment and collectively honor our country, its history, and our service members.” Here’s my response: People go to sporting events to watch a game. They don’t go to honor their country. If people want to honor their country, there are a million ways to do that (e.g. join the military, donate time and money to service-related organizations, hang a flag, attend patriotic events and parades, put a sticker or magnet on your car, wear patriotic clothing, become involved in civic activities, run for office, celebrate national holidays, write to newspapers about patriotic issues, send a care package to someone you know in the military, hold patriotic events at your home such as 4th of July BBQs, root for American teams in international competitions, help out a fellow citizen, take time to learn about the nation’s history, visit a local museum, travel to different parts of the country such as Fort McHenry in Baltimore where the “Star Spangled Banner” was originally written, etc.). Unfortunately, most of these activities require at least minimal effort from people. They would rather show up to a ballgame, be told when to stand, and then wait for their cue to think about their country. Then they feel like they’ve fulfilled their civic duty. It’s pathetic.

By the way, these sentiments also extend to the singing of “God Bless America” at every 7th inning stretch. Just like the national anthem, this was a temporary thing that just never went away. Prior to 9/11, no one sang “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch. But as a symbol of unity, we started. And then we never stopped. Twelve years later we’re still engaging in this irrational ritual. A few years from now people will think that’s how it’s always been, and any suggestion of discontinuing the tradition will be met with fierce opposition by America-loving patriots.

I believe there’s a time and place for the national anthem. If an athletic organization wants to lead the national anthem at a game that falls on the 4th of July, or Veterans Day, or the anniversary of D-Day, I say go right ahead. If a sports team wants to select a day to honor active duty service members or wounded warriors, that’s great. Make the national anthem part of the festivities. That makes sense. But singing the national anthem at every single sporting event is simply unnecessary. If you watch frequent sporting events, it starts to get annoying. And once you’ve started to annoy people, any chance of appealing to national pride is lost. When the national anthem is saved for special events, it remains special. But singing it at every sporting event – from professional sports all the way down to middle school scrimmages – makes the song virtually meaningless.

So the next time I’m at home gearing up for the big game, and Ruben Studdard breaks into the first few notes of the national anthem, I’ll push mute and mosey to the fridge to grab a beer. But I’ll still love America.

– Nathan