Wednesday, October 11, 2017

We really don't need the national anthem before sports games

With all the media frenzy over football and basketball players "taking the knee" (a bit of Game of Thrones borrowing there) during the national anthem before games, a few brave outlets have begun questioning why the anthem is played anyway.
For the longest time, professional sports games were played quite happily with no anthem at all. The Star-Spangled Banner, a battle hymn dating back to the War of 1812, was first played during the 1918 Baseball World Series, at the height of the patriotic fervour of World War 1, although it only sporadically resurfaced thereafter. Even after it became the official American national anthem in 1931, it was only played at special baseball occasions like opening day, national holidays and World Series games. It was usually played during the seventh innings stretch, and not at the start of the game.
During the renewed patriotic fervour of World War 2, and the advent of electric sound systems and recorded music, the Star-Spangled Banner was routinely played before major league baseball games (there again, it was also played before operas, theatre performances and movies!). Many baseball grounds continued the custom even after the War, although many stopped it and did not take it up again until the Vietnam War rekindled patriotic feelings yet again (among some, anyway). Other professional sports also took it up after the Second World War, until gradually it became the sacrosanct fixture it is today (at least in the USA - other countries, presumably less patriotic than the Yanks, generally reserve anthems for international contests, which at least makes more logical sense).
To say, as Donald Trump does, that players who don't stand to attention with their hands on their hearts are "disrespecting the flag", and somehow letting their country down, is a bit ridiculous. (Bear in mind, that the concession stands are still serving during the anthem, and hordes of spectators are still milling around, as they do throughout the game). To say they should be fired or taxed (!) is ridiculous squared.
America is not at war - although sometimes it's hard to tell - and professional sports does not need this kind of politicized militarism, particularly not sports like hockey, where a putatively American team is largely comprised of Canadians, Scandinavians and Russians (are THEY supposed to hold their hands over the hearts and look rapturous?)
However, it is a brave media outlet that comes out and says that in so many words, especially in today's charged political climate. So, kudos, then, to Bloomberg for coming out and telling it like it is: "The awkward, hard-to-admit truth is that the American national anthem is a form of right-wing political correctness, designed to embarrass or intimidate those who do not see fit to sing along and pay the demanded respect." Ouch! And Bloomberg's terse conclusion? "It is time to dial it down". Quite.

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