In 2017, it’s nearly impossible to find a sporting event of any size that doesn’t begin with the singing of the National Anthem. From the smallest high school basketball game to professional baseball’s World Series, the officials won’t start the game until the assembled crowd has warbled its way through the anthem.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Before World War II, most games didn’t include a rendition of the National Anthem. It was sung at some events primarily larger, national events. But its addition was seen more of a nice addition than the patriotic addition that marks modern games.
But war brought a renewed sense of patriotism and it’s a habit that only increased over the years. Modern major athletic events not only include the National Anthem, but also a flurry of related celebrations that can include a stadium flyover of military aircraft. It’s a highly organized spectacle of patriotism that some observers find troubling. So much so that some of them are asking if singing the National Anthem at athletic events isn’t a habit we should break.
New York Daily News columnist Julian Garcia argues that if you want to celebrate America, let’s do it in a way that matters. He says people only pay attention to the National Anthem at sporting events when the singer tackling it screws it up. Otherwise, it’s a moment no one in the crowd notice and few audience members join in.
Black Lives Matter member Aswan Chisago recently gave an interview arguing a more personal reason for dropping the anthem. He believes the National Anthem is an inherently racist and it is a song that reflects a time in American history when women, people of color and other under-represented peoples were being subjugated.
“I’d rather not have a song at all, rather than celebrate a time when America was controlled by an elite all-white patriarchy,” Aswan recently told public radio. “I’d like to believe we live in changing times….times that would allow us to overturn symbols of America’s racist past.” Chisago compared getting rid of the National Anthem from sporting events as similar to current efforts to remove Confederate statues from public places across the United States. “It’s past time for us to do this,” he argues. “We shouldn’t do the wrong them simply because it’s habit or tradition.”
But it’s that very tradition that many supporters of the anthem find so important. To many sports fans, singing (or ignoring) the anthem is as much a part of the game as eating hot dogs or doing the wave. “I can’t imagine going to a Vikings game and not hearing the National Anthem,” sports fan Eric Goldman told Minneapolis TV station KSTP in April. “I love America..I think most people do. Singing the anthem isn’t some sort of propaganda. It’s a reminder of who we are as a country.”
That opinion seems to be common with sports fan. A recent poll by Major League Baseball revealed that nearly 90 percent of fans asked in a survey said they believed the National Anthem was “important” to the game.
While not every professional athlete agrees with the importance of the anthem, they have also learned it can be a bad idea to publicly voice their disapproval of the spirit of the National Anthem. When NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was playing with the San Francisco Giants in 2016, he kneeled on one knee when the anthem was played before a game. Despite having led the Giants to a Super Bowl, Kaepernick finds himself out of work this season.