The Star-Spangled Banner should be played at national sporting events as a sign of countrymen striving for unification as one American nation.
By Katelyn McCarthy
There is one trait we Americans have inherited from our immortal wordsmith, Thomas Jefferson, that stands out among the others: spunk. It is ingrained in us that, because governments are created so as to secure for the individual his inalienable rights, “whenever any Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
While most Americans do not advocate the overthrow of our government, a decent chunk of the populace does support the overhaul of elements of our shared culture. The latest example of this cultural purification is the now-reversed decision by the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, to cease playing the Star-Spangled Banner at home games.
Lauded by some and criticized by others, Mr. Cuban stated that his reasoning for initially ceasing the anthem’s fanfare was due to the fact that “In listening to the community, there were quite a few people who voiced their concerns, really their fears that the national anthem did not fully represent them, that their voices were not being heard. So we've had a lot of conversations about whether or not we should play the anthem.”
Mr. Cuban turns an ear to the argument that, since some players and fans choose to kneel in protest during the playing of the anthem, the song should be avoided to best appease people. But doesn’t doing so devoid a protestor of his ability to protest? In a way, I think that the fact that one can kneel during the anthem (or burn a flag, as well) is indicative of America’s greatness—only a country that is truly free respects her people’s right to disrespect her. We are lucky to live in a country that lets us hate her. Not all people are so fortunate.
Others assert that the national anthem needn’t be played at sporting events because it does not inhere in athletics. While it certainly is objectively true that sports and the Star-Spangled Banner are not blood-related, there is something to be said for tradition. The anthem began to be sung at sporting games during World War I and World War II. It is in times of national crisis that the anthem has been sung with the greatest zeal. If our time is one of crisis, which I think few would deny, then to come together in a reminder of our shared brotherhood seems like a beneficial strategy.
Yet another criticism levelled against the national anthem is that the third verse contains a remark regarding the comeuppance of the “hireling and slave” who chose to fight with the British against the American forces. (It is not clear whether this phrase refers to enslaved African Americans or to British mercenaries, but I shall entertain the former understanding, as it is the reading which those who oppose the anthem prefer). While the third verse is not sung at sporting events (nor, so far as I am aware, anywhere), the very fact of its virtually unknown existence is cause enough for some to pile the anthem onto the ash heap of history.
A final, broader complaint against the song is that it is indicative of a country closed to those who are not of European descent. To play it reinforces old prejudices of white superiority and alienates the rest of the American population. America, then, is racist, through and through.
Interestingly enough, an unofficial fifth verse, written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., was added to the Star-Spangled Banner during the Civil War. It reads as follows:
When our land is illum'd with Liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down, with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchain'd who our birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.
Holmes recognizes here that his America had not yet achieved her ideal of liberty but that true republicans would stand firm until she did. America faces adversaries, sometimes from within her very ranks, but she is not they. Perhaps those who dislike the anthem might find some solace in knowing that, while there are bad actors in every avenue of life, there are good men, too, and to define America by her baser parts is a cruel slight against the nobler among her. In focusing on the good, Holmes was able to sing of his country, fraught though she was with division and prejudice. Can we do the same?
Will we choose to concentrate on the evils of the third verse, or the nobility of the fifth? Is our flag adamantine, or does she ripple with the flow of the wind? Will we strangle her, the emblem of liberty, even if as yet imperfectly attained, or will we advance her further against the throes of bondage that the warm rays of freedom might shine more perfectly upon her? Shall our shoulders broaden into those of giants, or shall they wither with the atrophy of despair?
In other words, do we want to give up on our country, or shall we strive to make her better?
We can abandon her, fail to sing her praises where they are rightfully due while pointing out her every flaw, or we can bask in her freedoms while simultaneously expanding them. Loving America and hating racism are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the one cannot be had without the other.
So, perhaps we should use our Jeffersonian “spunk” not to work against our nation but to better her, to push her forward along paths yet untraveled while being sure that it is she, and not some messy amalgamation of individuals, for which we stand. In so doing, I think that we can best become one people, united and truly free, able to lift our voices in one song and under one flag.
Ryan Ford '23,