Further Review

Steve Hummer's Further Review blog offers comments, asides and quick hits on the state of sports

Rethinking the pregame anthem


So, now, the national anthem is a part of the game story.

Who stood? Who could spare two minutes to show at least token respect to those who consider the Star Spangled Banner a hymn to pride and sacrifice and national identity? Otherwise known as the paying customers.

Who didn’t? Who has taken a seat or a knee, attaching themselves to Colin Kaepernick’s passive dissent, hitchhikers on the controversy of the moment?

Who cares?

The day I look to celebrities to shape my political views or athletes to get in touch with my social conscience is when I officially have given up the inconvenience of independent thought.

We have come to watch a game and a referendum on America’s ideals and shortcomings has erupted. A backup quarterback has taken a knee, awaiting the rapture of the perfect society, and has “sparked a national discussion.”

Which is a major distraction for those who want to witness nothing more than some good news for their fantasy teams.

Historians say the anthem made its sporting debut during the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, and was, against the backdrop of WWI, so enthusiastically embraced that it eventually was moved up to the pregame part of the program.

The tune does seem to hit the right note in times of great national stress. And with the NFL’s first Sunday falling on September 11, it once more will beckon the crowd to stand and remember. As for those who don’t, they have decided to ignore the common loss and bravery this day represents, just as the national anthem on this of all days represents more than a nod to one of our B-list wars.

We don’t perform this ritual before any of our other entertainments and diversions. We aren’t invited to stand in the theater and sing the anthem in advance of the coming attractions. Nor rise and profess our patriotism before the appetizer arrives. But for certain sporting events, it is deemed essential, connecting the triviality of games to the importance of being an American.

But is it really so essential?

I wonder how much we would miss it if it went away. If they just set off some pyrotechnics, flipped a coin and played the game.

Truth be told, the national anthem is a song most of us don’t give much of a voice to when it is played. One that is impossible to sing well for those not classically trained. You belt it out only at the risk of sounding like an alley cat in labor to the poor soul standing next to you.

And now it is a vehicle of protest?

Wednesday, the Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League altered the pregame routine in order to play the anthem before the teams took the field. Megan Rapinoe of the visiting Seattle Reign previously had taken up the cause and knelt on the sideline during the anthem. The Spirit neatly circumvented her protest.

(A little pause here while I Google Megan Rapinoe).

Women’s soccer of all sports may have provided the answer to this controversy. So, if it must be played, play the anthem for the fans while the players are penned up, out of sight, in their locker room or clubhouse.

That way none of them have to betray their convictions. And none of us have to concern ourselves with the beliefs of the entertainers.


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About the Author

Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.