A Time and Place for Our National Anthem in Sports: September 11th

Posted: September 11, 2012 in ALL II

This is going to sound like rambling so I apologize ahead of time but it’s just the beginning of some sports thoughts I’ve had for some time.

Going to a sporting event in the United States of America is a very exhilarating activity with many nuanced details and customs.  One of the oddest things has been the singing of the national anthem before games.  I generalize sporting events because this happens for major professional leagues the same as it does for untelevised high school sports.  It is a thing we (Americans) do because we are…exceptional.  Or so I think.  I only occasionally thought about why we drop what we do (eating, heckling, texting) to stand, find the flag, and listen to someone sing about our triumphant moment some centuries ago.  It took leaving the USA to realize that this is not a standard operating procedure in sports; it is uniquely American.

Visiting England (soccer) and South Africa (soccer and rugby) made me realize something that seemed obvious all along: when you are going against a team in the same nation, you don’t really need to sing the national anthem.  You all know what country you are in and presumably chanting that name or acknowledging it doesn’t change anything.  It was weird for me to not rise and remove my hat to listen to an anthem.  Odd but refreshing.

One of the things I like about international competition is that the opponent is from a different place and the kinship I feel is to the athletes from my location.  Singing the national anthem for the USA seems wonderful to inspire the fans against a different rival.   Singing it for Chicago vs. Detroit seems woefully uninspiring and at worst suggests one place to be more American or patriotic than the other.

I love this country and living here but this socialization to find the flag and recite the national anthem prior to high school track seems absurd – with the greater suggestion of not doing it means you are not as American.  Of course this is racialized as many persons of color have a distinctly different perspective of American history or “patriotism” through their own lens.  My qualms don’t go down those lines, rather they are squarely focused on the insecurity about our collective patriotism in highly “masculine” venues like sports.  It bothers me.  It seems very silly to do what we do and even more concerning when asking the question is met with disgust.

Some days are exceptions to my general feelings towards sports merging with patriotism.  Today is one of those days.  Today is September 11, 2012, the eleventh anniversary of the most dreadful and heinous terrorist attack that took place on September 11, 2001.  We were wounded, suffered, and lost as a nation and recognizing those losses and our healing seem appropriate today.  At most venues (and throughout the weekend for football), “God Bless America” will be performed to further pay homage to our losses and rebuilding efforts.  In New York Yankees games, this is a common practice every game during the seventh inning stretch.  A bit too much for my liking but what works with the patrons is the motivating factor for the day.

We should all take some time to remember how connected we are as people in this nation and paying tribute by singing the national anthem is a great way to do that at sporting events.  But going forward, it should be asked: why we need this every day for every sporting event?  Old Habits Die Hard (my suggestion for the title of the next Die Hard movie with 60 year old Bruce Willis) but not questioning why we do things may be doing more harm than good.  Just a sport thought though…

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