The history of the National Anthem is remarkable. Written in 1814 by an imprisoned American, Francis Scott Key, “The Star Spangled Banner” is a fight song about getting through struggle or tough times. Today we utilize the tune to honor the troops who fight for our country, and the individuals who sacrificed their lives for us in the past. We use it to support the men and women who help run our nation, and to bind us closer together as Americans. The song also serves as a pregame ritual before all sporting events, from high school games to professional events. This custom is considered by some critics to be unnecessary and even demeaning to our country. Others believe it to be a great way to appreciate our nation. This lack of agreement about whether or not we should sing the National Anthem before sporting events is a hot topic in American sports.
The lyrics have inspired some great moments in American history. One of these moments came on September 21st, 2001. Ten days after the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, Mark Anthony delivered one the most emotional anthems ever at Shea Stadium. He called it, “The most nerve-racking moment of his career.” When Anthony hit the note “Free” in the second to last verse the place erupted. But even if sung terribly, the fans would not have cared. At this time, the song served as more than just a collection of words or an appealing melody. It symbolized the resilience and unity of American citizens. This unity is also exemplified nightly during the hockey season in Boston. Here, Rene Rancourt has one job: to walk out onto the ice in a black suit ten minutes before game time before every game the Boston Bruins play at TD Garden and sing the National Anthem. He says he has “the best job in the world.” On April 17th, 2013, Rancourt had a special performance ahead of him. Less than a week earlier, there were terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon. The city of Boston needed something to rally behind and they found it in their ice hockey team. Rancourt got through the first verse; he then cut the microphone off and let the crowd take over. With a booming, unified voice, the fans at that game finished singing our nation’s anthem.
The National Anthem, like the bald eagle or the American flag, is what separates us from the hundreds of other countries across the world. It is symbolic of everything we stand for as a country. Most Americans love the feeling of patriotism and do not want to get rid of the ritual of singing the “Star Spangled Banner” before sporting events for fear that we may loose this great feeling of being unified as one country. According to Luke Cyphers’ ESPN article “The Song Remains the Same,” (http://espn.go.com/espn/story/_/id/6957582/the-history-national-anthem-sports-espn-magazine) most fans love singing the National Anthem. The rush of unified nationalism the event provides is something unmatched by many other moments. In a report by Andy Nesbitt from 16 WNEP news, he states that fans at a collegiate baseball game in Lafayette, LA were told that the National Anthem would not be played that day due to difficulties with the speakers. Then, a majority of the people including players and coaches rose and took it upon themselves to sing the anthem. “This act shows us the deep-rooted love for singing the song fans have,” Nesbitt says. (http://wnep.com/2015/05/19/fans-told-national-anthem-wont-be-played-but-they-sing-anyway/)
Supporters of the National Anthem argue that if we were to take out this tradition, we would also take out its history. Cyphers notes that the 1918 World Series at Fenway Park was the first time the anthem was sung before a game. Since then we have sung this song before almost every event. Cyphers states that eliminating the anthem from sports would be a disservice to not only our country, but also our country’s history.
The other side of this argument claims that the chanting of the song has become a blind action for some. Rarely does someone think about the meaning of the lyrics or what they represent. They are caught up in the fireworks, the fighter jets, or the famous artist the team brought in to sing. We also get caught up in the festivities. Yet this was not Francis Scott Key’s purpose when he composed the song hundreds of years ago.
Some spectators believe that singing the National Anthem is unnecessary. At a New York Jets football game this past Sunday I watched the 58,000 square foot flag be brought out to pay tribute to our country. As the anthem played I thought what could be more American? I then noticed a man roughly sixty years old get up out of his chair and stand for a few minutes trembling. He was physically too weak to stand in the hot sun. Patiently awaiting the end of the song, he stood there with his hand over his heart, when he really just came to see Brandon Marshall catch touchdown passes. At baseball games we have such a deep love for this custom that not only do we sing the National Anthem before the game, we are also asked to sing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. Just in case you forgot about our love for American patriotism, there’s a reminder less than two hours away! We all love our country and whether we admit it or not, we are thankful for the freedoms it grants us. However, some think it may not be mandatory for us to sing that song every time.
If we carried out the tradition and rose with the eighty thousand other fans at a game, we would be confused or frustrated by a single person not doing the same thing. Say that person is not an American. He or she may not know the words. We would judge this person as someone who does not know the right thing to do strictly off this one simple action. In reality, they have the freedom to stand or not stand, sing or not sing, but this constant tradition of singing “The Star Spangled Banner” does not grant them this liberty without judgment.
Perhaps it is not a question of whether we should or shouldn’t “rise and remove our caps for the singing of our nation’s anthem,” as they say at Yankee Stadium. Rather, it is more important to simply recognize the bizarre nature of anthem singing before a game or event, and the obscurity behind a crowd’s sporadic outbursts of “USA! USA!” during a team’s warm-ups. Yet reason behind it is clear. We get caught up in American nationalism. When we feel bonded to one another through our nation, we get excited or feel powerful. This unique feeling goes into overdrive at our country’s sporting events. Fans like Samuel Lam, in his article “Is It Necessary to Sing the National Anthem?” believe that the mere fact that singing the song has become “an event” means that it has gone to far. He jokes, “[…] But if we do that, then shouldn’t we sing the National Anthem when we go to Wal-Mart? Only in America can we get low prices like that.” (http://butattheendoftheday.com/2012/04/04/is-it-necessary-to-sing-the-national-anthem-before-every-sporting-event/) Lam is referring to the fact that although we use the anthem to celebrate the freedom America gives us in having sporting events, there are other things our country grants us that we do not publicly appreciate.
As a player, I realize the effects that this tradition can have. Standing on the sidelines next to my teammates as we look up at the flag makes me remember that we are all a part of something bigger. Singing the anthem can take us out of the moment. This single tune can make us forget about plays, tackles, or goals. It reminds us about what is really important. However, at Friends Academy we are not asked to sing the National Anthem before our games. Nor do we have an American flag anywhere near our fields. When talking to faculty here I was told that this is because of the negative connotation of American nationalism and it connection to violence. I was also told that it is against Quaker values to swear to a flag. Although students have made requests to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” and to establish more flags around campus, no changes have been made.
As described by Anthony and Rancourt, our National Anthem has produced some of the most binding, rallying, and patriotic moments in our nation’s history, especially in sports. However, through this tradition of singing the National Anthem before sporting events, we often loose sight of the song’s significance. We need to balance the good this song can produce while making sure we keep its importance. We do not want to defeat the purpose of singing as one nation through pomp and circumstance or being judgmental of others who choose not to participate. The ritual is one that is deeply entrenched into our sporting events and patriotic roots as Americans. Everyone from Lou Gehrig to Michael Jordan to the random guy sitting next to you at a restaurant has sung this song countless times over. We need to monitor the usage of this great song, so that we can continue to hold onto its importance, both for those who have come before us and for those who will sing it long after we are gone.