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Why Is the National Anthem Sung at Sporting Events?

Interesting article at Fanhouse.com (HT: Melanie Howard) about the tradition of singing the national anthem before every sporting event from the Super Bowl to high schools. I’ve actually discussed this recently with several friends via email, and we’ve been wondering the same thing. Here’s a little taste:

“O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,”‘ a phrase from the National Anthem, has absolutely nothing to do with sports but everything to do with war. But we want those who play, coach and comment on sports to be sensitive at a time like this when nearly 6,000 U.S. men and women have been killed fighting wars in Iraq, where the last U.S. troops aren’t scheduled to be withdrawn until this year’s end, and in Afghanistan, where any withdrawal of U.S. troops isn’t scheduled to begin until this coming summer.

Whether “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played doesn’t have anything to do with patriotism, either. If the sports world wants performance patriotism — although movie theaters, concert halls, Wal-Mart and other places where tens of thousands assemble don’t – it has choices. There are several tunes in the national songbook that could be chosen that are patriotic and, quite frankly, better than the stilted difficult to sing Anthem, both lyrically and rhythmically. They also don’t necessarily evoke politics and militarism so many have professed to find objectionable in their sports.

It does seem to be pretty much meaningless when we do it so frequently, and with such famously bad results, in some cases (see the most recent Super Bowl, or Roseanne Barr, or Carl Lewis). They do suggest some possible alternatives, but one has to wonder whether any song is really necessary. Interesting thoughts.

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2 comments on “Why Is the National Anthem Sung at Sporting Events?

  1. Glad to see this inspired some thought on your end, too! Especially as an Anabaptist, I’m sensitive to the war imagery in the anthem as well as the idolatry that often comes part and parcel with certain displays of patriotism. So, it was interesting for me to see that there might be non-Anabaptist objections to the use of the anthem.

    • It was funny to see this after some recent back and forth via email. Including at least one atheist and several Christians from varying traditions. I think I am the only Anabaptist in the group. No one came to the defense of the practice, though there was some concern about the God references in some of the alternative options. (God Bless American and America the Beautiful were mentioned in our emails, and in the article above.) Thanks!

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