SportsPulse: Playing the anthem before our football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer games has become a lazy excuse for patriotism. Time to save it for special occasions.
This is the 11th and final installment in our Things We’d Change in Sports series. To see the full list, visit this page.
Imagine going to a movie and being asked to stand for the national anthem when the previews finish. Being at a concert and the opening act not taking the stage until after the last notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” have faded. Trying to corral kids at an arcade birthday party while the anthem plays.
It would be absurd.
So, too, is the playing of the anthem before sporting events, and it’s time we stopped.
The national anthem can be a powerful unifier in times of crisis, as it was during World War I, when it became a staple before baseball games. Whitney Houston’s performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1991 Super Bowl, during the height of the first Gulf War, still gives me chills.
But we are not at war now, and it will take a lot more than a song to bridge this country’s great divide.
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Playing the anthem before our football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer games has become a lazy excuse for patriotism. Standing at attention – or a loose approximation of it – for 2 minutes no more proves love of country or gratitude for those who serve than wearing an American flag pin does.
Yet in the two years since Colin Kaepernick and other athletes began protesting during the anthem to draw attention to the racism and economic disparity endemic to our society, it’s become something of a patriotic litmus test. The kind of faux display of national pride better suited for countries run by dictators or despots.
The truth is, most of us tuned out our national anthem long ago. Or lost sight of its supposed purpose.
I’ve long griped about the singers who treat the anthem as if it’s their audition for “American Idol,” drawing out words for dramatic effect or punctuating their performance with theatrical hand gestures. And for the last two years, since the NFL protests began, I’ve watched the crowd at the games I attend to see what fans actually do during the anthem.
While there are some who stand quietly at attention, their hats off, I’ve seen many others texting, taking photos, talking to their friends, looking for their seats or scanning the skies in anticipation of a flyover.
I’ve even seen someone vaping during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
This is just in the sections right in front of me, mind you. I know there are plenty of others beyond my view who are roaming the concourses, using the restrooms, even buying beer and hotdogs in the stadiums that don’t shut down concessions during the anthem.
And where to begin with the Kansas City Chiefs fans who rewrite “home of the brave” with a loud shout of CHIEFS!
Yet it’s Kaepernick and the players who are supposedly so disrespectful …
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If the national anthem means so much to us, if we are all so proudly patriotic, we’d have long ago included it as part of all our other civic and social activities. Or at least demanded that it be shown as part of the broadcasts of our sporting events.
But we don’t. Which means we don’t need it before our games, either.
If we truly want to honor those who serve and instill pride in our country, then how about ensuring our veterans have adequate health care. Improving our underperforming schools so every child has an equal shot at success. Prohibiting discrimination, in all forms.
It’s easier just to sing a song, I know. But that’s not patriotism, and we should stop pretending it is.