I need you to know that if you disagree with this column, that’s just fine.
By now you know the Dallas Mavericks began the season by experimenting with not playing our national anthem before games. After the decision was finally reported on and the internet exploded, the NBA strong-armed the team into playing the anthem again moving forward. And everyone handled the situation like adults and frankly, there’s not much more to say here. Have a great day!
Oh, what I wouldn’t give.
The Mavericks’ decision has, of course, led to debate within every fan base in sports as to whether their own teams should do the same. I was stunned — stunned I say (!) — to learn that such conversations included as much nuance as Patrick Mahomes had time to throw the football in the Super Bowl.
If we’re going to do this, we must acknowledge the obvious. The loudest responses to the Mavericks’ decision have been the most performative. A group of people see this as a “red-meat” issue that plays to their base of readers, listeners, viewers, followers, supporters, etc. The overwhelming majority of them absolutely do not actually care this much about the topic. They just want people to believe they do.
I know that’s true because in my entire life, I’ve never heard the national anthem played ONCE before a group tees off a round of golf or before a drinking league kickball game or before virtual Zoom trivia where that one team is DEFINITELY not cheating despite somehow magically guessing a number almost exactly representative of the number of coffeehouses there are per person in Berkley, Calif., when no other team came within 2,000 of the correct answer. Hypothetically.
We do not actually care this much about the national anthem, which is good! It’s a song. While yes, it is an “official” song of our country, we shouldn’t obsess over it and be incapable of living life without it. That would be quite weird! I’m glad we don’t actually care as much as some of us pretend to when these conversations come up. It would be paralyzing.
Let’s take a pause. Some of you are absolutely in the group of folks who scream about the sanctity of the song’s place in sports but yet amazingly have never decided to simply turn around if you arrived late to a game and missed the anthem. You’ve also never pulled out your phone and started playing the anthem in your car as you pulled up because you were so horrified that you were missing it. You didn’t care. But you’re probably not willing to acknowledge that because … it is incredibly damning for your argument. I get it.
You’re probably arguing that the anthem needs to remain at sporting events because of “tradition,” which only proves you’ve never read the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. We, of course, cannot defend actions by the suggestion of “tradition” alone. Not all traditions are justifiable. We know that.
The debate for ending the playing of the anthem reflects a broader and more uncomfortable conversation about the history of the poem Francis Scott Key once wrote in our city. The author was indisputably racist. The content is questionably racist. I would like to hope that would be enough for reasonable thinkers to say, “Huh, maybe we should listen to someone who might feel marginalized by that.”
I know better. I’m not scholarly enough to be capable of making a compelling reason for why a poem alone should be important enough to ignore the opinions of a large group of Americans who might reasonably be uncomfortable with the song’s undertones, but I’m willing to acknowledge it is possible such an argument exists.
The Orioles and Ravens and local colleges aren’t powerful enough to actually change the anthem (no matter how many times I handwrite letters suggesting they push for “Int’l Players Anthem” by UGK instead). They could only make a decision as to whether they think it is best to continue playing the current one if their respective sports leagues allow for such freedom. The best argument for why they should isn’t “tradition.” It’s tradition.
By that I mean that the “tradition” of the national anthem itself isn’t justifiable reason to continue. But I can understand that the performance of the song has provided true thrills for scores of area children (and now adults) at Camden Yards throughout the years. (The Ravens, of course, have historically employed a professional vocalist for the tune.)
Even willingly ignoring the “patriotism-for-profit” debate that is truly at the center of the relationship between sports and the anthem, there is a more harmless discussion that can be had about what it means for a high school choir to have the opportunity to take the field before a game and get the type of spotlight that can only come with performing in front of (sometimes) thousands of fans at a baseball game.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the team also gets to sell a smattering of tickets to the families of those kids as well.
It would hurt to take those types of opportunities away, particularly from children. So is there a proverbial “middle ground” to be had? I imagine we’ll see more teams and leagues follow the NFL’s lead and add “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” or the “Black national anthem” to pregame festivities. While perhaps in practicality that no more than panders, it does at least minimally address the elephant in the room.
Of course, these teams could also choose to avoid the look of pandering and, you know, not play the songs until the country comes to grips with an anthem that better reflects all Americans. There would undoubtedly be fans who would miss it. Hell, I miss when radio stations used to play “A Murder of One” by Counting Crows (it’s truly a shame, shame, shame). But I’ve gotten by. When I want to hear it, I own ear buds. And high school choirs could still come perform other songs to entertain fans before games. May I suggest “A Murder of One” by Counting Crows?
Either way, I want to promise you that the republic is not going to an end because we’re finally having an overdue conversation about a symbolic national song. I mean, we’ve survived ACTUAL threats to the republic recently. This will be OK. I would appreciate local franchises using whatever power they might have to force such necessary chatter.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox