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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)

 

Athletes should neither stand nor kneel during the national anthem. The same goes for fans. Because the song should not be played in the first place.

Kaboom.

Seriously, beyond tradition, which is always changing, why play "The Star-Spangled Banner" before sporting events? These are games, not political rallies. You love your country? So do I, but I don't need to place my hand over my heart before an Ohio State football game to prove it.

Anti-American? To the contrary, I prefer celebrating my freedom without fans spilling beer or bumping me on their way to the bathroom.

A better idea would be for each team to craft its own theme song — many already have them, dreadful though they may be — to play before games. A sports-themed tune for a sporting event. What a concept. (Aside: while we're at it, why does one football fight song represent nearly every college sport? E.g. "Drive, drive on down the field," makes no sense at an Ohio State basketball game.)

Don't get me wrong, I like our national anthem. Difficult to sing, yes, but it stirs the emotions in the proper context. It's just that a sporting event, other than the Olympics or other international events, seldom is that setting.

Please prove to me the value of exalting the United States prior to athletes whacking a tennis ball or running the 100-meter dash. To honor those who serve our country or who paid the ultimate price defending our freedom? Sorry, doesn't wash.

I have family members who ultimately paid that price and I guarantee it was not so LeBron could drop a triple-double on the Celtics. And last I looked, China is a communist country where fans get to watch sports. Just like us. There goes that argument.

The hot-button issue of athletes protesting against treatment of African-Americans in the U.S. took a new turn on Wednesday when the NFL outlined a plan allowing each team to decide its own anthem policy, and removed the requirement that players must be on the sideline for the anthem. Players now will have the option to remain in the locker room.

The aim of my drop-the-anthem agenda is not to sweep the controversy under the rug and eliminate a public forum by which athletes can protest. Players have a right to kneel during the anthem, and teams and leagues have a right to discipline them. Even actions that are legal have consequences.

Politics did not drive my opinion. The current hullabaloo simply triggered in me an innocent question: Why play the anthem before games?

I checked history. The earliest documented performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a sporting event occurred on May 15, 1862, at a baseball game in Brooklyn, New York. But for decades the song was reserved for special occasions such as opening day, according to Marc Ferris in "Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America's National Anthem."

It was not until 1931 that the anthem went national, with President Herbert Hoover signing a bill making "The Star-Spangled Banner" our official anthem.

And it was not until World War II that the anthem became standard protocol at sporting events. Why? Mostly because stadium sound systems improved, allowing for recorded music.

So there you have it, a tradition born of technology as much as patriotism.

Given current circumstances, I say respect and protect the national anthem, not only from kneeling athletes and image-conscious owners but also from a party atmosphere — and let's face it, a here-we-go-again attitude — that elevates casual take-for-granted routine over reflection.

It's time to stop playing the anthem before "Play ball."

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD

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May 24, 2018
 
 
 

 

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