I still feel the tingle on my neck. Nothing compared to September nights in Western Pennsylvania when "The Star-Spangled Banner" echoed through Moon Area High School's campus. But it wasn't just the impending football game that brought chills. It was the calming effect of the national anthem; our national anthem. It was two minutes of reflection, a microscopic amount of time to pause and remember the men and women who fought and died — both abroad and right here at home — and gave my brothers and I this chance to play a kids' game.
Our American flag hung just above a framed jersey. That red and white No. 8 was retired to honor Army Pfc. Matthew Bowe, a Moon Area graduate who was killed in Baghdad on February 19, 2007, when an IED struck his vehicle. Matthew Bowe was 19 years old when he died.
Ever since, I stand, remove my hat, place a hand over my heart, and sing along. That's my choice, a simple freedom of speech. That two minutes is ours to do whatever we choose, and that includes kneeling down to raise awareness that 400 years of societal oppression of black people is still, somehow, present in our country in the year 2020.
I have no problem with someone kneeling; that freedom is yours as an American. However, rather than honor our country, or face the issues presented in modern-day society, some people want the anthem removed from sports altogether. Many important voices align playing the anthem before games as "a lazy excuse for patriotism" and believe it's an outdated tradition.
No. That's where I draw the line.
Why Is The National Anthem Played at Sports Events?
The first time our national anthem was played during a sporting event came in the seventh-inning stretch of Game One in the 1918 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Babe Ruth's Boston Red Sox. More than 100,000 U.S. soldiers were already dead in World War I. A bomb exploded in the game's host city of Chicago, Illinois, the day prior. A sparse crowd was on hand, and it didn't seem like playing baseball was the right thing to do.
But as the U.S. Navy band began to play, something happened. History.com explains:
"As the song began, Red Sox infielder Fred Thomas—who was in the Navy and had been granted furlough to play in the World Series—immediately turned toward the American flag and gave it a military salute, according to the Chicago Tribune. Other players turned to the flag with hands over hearts, and the already-standing crowd began to sing. At the song's conclusion, the previously quiet fans erupted in thunderous applause. At the time, the New York Times reported that it 'marked the highest point of the day's enthusiasm.' The song would be played at each of the Series' remaining games, to increasingly rapturous response. And patriotism played a part right from the start, as the Red Sox gave free tickets to wounded veterans and honored them during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner before the start of the decisive Game 6."
The national anthem became a standing appointment (pun intended) before Major League Baseball games. Beginning with the MLB, leagues from the NBA, NHL, NFL, and all the way down to collegiate and high school athletics adopted "The Star-Spangled Banner" as a reminder that, no matter what jersey you're wearing, we're here as Americans and "our flag was still there."
Yet, ignorance prevails. Many spend their time talking, texting, using the bathroom, grabbing a hot dog, flirting with the girl behind them, or grabbing a selfie for social media. Playing the national anthem has become less about American ideals and more of a symbolic starting gun to the day's events.
I empathize with the "let's get to business" crowd who think removing the anthem isn't a big deal. After all, why waste the time if no one's paying attention? Why should we even afford NFL players like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick the opportunity to "disgrace" America by kneeling during the song?
Why? Because these are the United States of America, that's why.
Free speech. The right to bear arms. Upholding states' rights. Abolishing human slavery. Women's suffrage. Never forget that millions of Americans sacrificed it all fighting for these freedoms, whether they were military veterans or everyday heroes here at home. Sports are not the law, no matter how often we draw "party lines" around fandoms. Sports are, however, a beautiful microcosm of our society where anyone — no matter your race, religion, gender or sexual orientation — can take the field and compete as equals.
It's the anthem that brings us together for a brief moment honoring those freedoms.
Need proof of the anthem's power? Listen to an emotional TD Garden crowd sing in unison after the deadly Boston Marathon bombing and tell me it shouldn't be played before games.
The Star-Spangled Banner After Boston Marathon Bombing
"The Star-Spangled Banner" is about perseverance. Francis Scott Key's four-stanza poem came in the shadows of Fort McHenry, which survived a night-long onslaught by the British during the War of 1812 — The first stanza is what we recognize as the national anthem of the United States. Yes, it was written over 200 years ago during a very different time in our history. But at its core, the anthem is about standing side by side, weathering the storm, and remembering that our country is fucking awesome when we work together.
Anyone who thinks it should be removed from pregame festivities, or reserved for "special occasions" like the Olympics or Super Bowl, is entitled to their opinion. Quite frankly, it's a naive one, but you know what, that's fine. This is America after all. In truth, we don't give thanks often enough for the freedoms we have. I think you can spare two minutes before eating your nachos.
Me? I'll be standing, facing the flag, belting out the words, and enjoying those chills for years to come.
The national anthem isn't going anywhere. Get used to it, and God Bless America.
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