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The National Anthem is an Important Tradition at Sporting Events

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By Dr. Matthew Williams |

As another football season begins, there will be a new cry to eliminate the tradition of playing the National Anthem before the start of the game. The history of the playing of the National Anthem at sporting events is traced to a Chicago Cubs game in 1918 when a military band spontaneously started playing the song during the seventh-inning stretch. Immediately the crowd and the players enthusiastically embraced the playing of the song.

Since this game, playing the National Anthem before the start of a sporting event remains an avenue to remember all the servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives for our country. 

Currently, athletes across the sports spectrum use the playing of the National Anthem as a platform for their political agenda.  Olympic soccer player Morgan Rapinoe is the most recent cause de jour that has detracted from the playing of the National Anthem at a sporting event. Some fans claimed that athletes have a First Amendment right to promote their political agenda during the playing of the National Anthem, while others stated that athletes disrespect our country by protesting during the playing of the National Anthem.

The debate over the playing of the National Anthem at a sporting event soon was involved in a national discussion. Even USA Today entered the dialogue on the National Anthem at sporting events. An article written by Nancy Armour argued that the National Anthem should be eliminated from sporting events because few people pay attention to it anymore. Her main argument is that playing the National Anthem during sporting events is a lazy excuse for patriotism. The author’s assertion is misguided because the playing of the National Anthem is equally about unity and sacrifice as was eloquently displayed by the fans and players at that great Cubs game.

Roughly one percent of the United States population is currently in the military. The majority of Americans have little idea what the U.S. military personnel are enduring or the sacrifices that these men and women and their families have made for this country.

The National Anthem provides a brief opportunity to remember those who have lost their lives during wartime: an estimated five hundred and seven thousand U.S. military personnel have perished in combat since World War I.  The playing of the National Anthem at the arenas, in the ballparks, or on the fields and racetracks is a tribute to those who fell at the Battle of Belleau, D-day, Guadalcanal, Task Force Faith, Battle of la Drang Valley, Battle of Khafji, and all the other engagements that have claimed the lives of our men and women.

Sports fans need to stop everything that they are doing when the public announcers ask us to stand and remove our hats for the playing of the National Anthem. By keeping this reverential tradition alive, playing the National Anthem before sporting events, one can pause and thank those who made the ultimate sacrifice and briefly stand in unison with our brethren.

Dr. Matthew Williams is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

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