I read recently where the Green Bay Packers have been stressing the importance of the history of the National anthem to his players for 10 years. That is way before Colin Kaepernick became a major pain in the butt to the NFL. Long before Malcolm Jenkins was joined by Howie Longs son Chris raising his fist as a symbol of black power. And before Marshawn Lynch sat on the bench during the anthem, just being Marshawn
For those of you who do not know the history of the National anthem I thought I would share it with you. The first thing to remember is that it’s a battle song.
The most memorable lines involve rockets and bombs, and the lesser-known verses conjure “the havoc of war” and “the gloom of the grave.”
The second thing to remember? It’s a taunt, a lyrical grenade chucked at a defeated opponent. “See that flag still flying, the one you tried to capture?” it famously asks the British. We are familiar with taunting our enemies. The most recent taunt came when Kim Jong midget started yapping about his nukes and bombing Guam. Next thing you know B1B bombers are heading to Guam and the class punk shut his mouth.
That’s why, in a country that loudly lauds actions on the battlefield and the playing field, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and American athletics have a nearly indissoluble marriage. Hatched during one war, institutionalized during another, this song has become so entrenched in our sports identity that it’s almost impossible to think of one without the other.
Our nation honors war. Our nation loves sports. Our nation glorifies winning. Our national anthem strikes all three chords at the same time. We honor our warriors. That is why the destruction of confederate monuments and statues is so offensive to many.
Those chords were ringing loudly on Sept. 17, 2001, the day Major League Baseball resumed following 9/11. The country was in morning, and sports was a way of healing our wounds. No one was offended by the National anthem being played on that day or by walking by confederate statues on the way to games. People wore “I Love New York” buttons and FDNY hats all over the country. We were united by our grief. .”
National anthem Of course, in American sports, the flag — and the anthem — is always there. At the biggest events, pregame festivities surrounding the song provide as much spectacle as the games themselves. The anthem is a show, and a show of force. Every year, the Pentagon approves several hundred requests for military flyovers (even if that means five F-18s buzzing the closed roof of Cowboys Stadium, as was the case at this year’s Super Bowl). At lesser events, even at the high school level, a color guard is often on hand with the flag as the anthem is played. A game without the anthem is likely one that doesn’t matter much.
The wartime roots of the National anthem are unmistakable. Key wrote it to bear witness to a bloody battle during the War of 1812. But its origins as a game-day ritual are murkier. It’s not as if every other country in the world plays its anthem before every game. So what is the history of the National anthem in US sports?
THAT STORY BEGINS, as so many tales in modern American sports do, with Babe Ruth. History records various games in which “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played dating from the mid-1800s, but Ruth’s last postseason appearances for the Boston Red Sox coincided with the song’s first unbreakable bond with the sports world, in 1918. Game 1 of that year’s World Series was notable for many reasons. The Red Sox and Cubs were both champs then. World War I blackened everything, including the national pastime. And on Sept 4, the day before the first game a bomb ripped through the Chicago Federal Building killing four people and injuring 30.
The Red Sox beat the Cubs in the 1918 World Series — and wouldn’t win another title for 86 years. The “Star-Spangled Banner” would have a better run.
With one exception: the seventh-inning stretch. As was common during sporting events, a military band was on hand to play, and while the fans were on their feet, the musicians fired up “The Star-Spangled Banner.” They weren’t the only active-duty servicemen on the field, though. Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas was playing the Series while on furlough from the Navy, where he’d been learning seamanship at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago…
Upon hearing the opening notes of Key’s song from the military band, Thomas immediately faced the flag and snapped to attention with a military salute. The other players on the field followed suit, in “civilian” fashion, meaning they stood and put their right hands over their hearts. The crowd, already standing, showed its first real signs of life all day, joining in a spontaneous sing-along, haltingly at first, then finishing with flair.
The Cubs front office realized it had witnessed something unique. For the next two games, it had the band play “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the seventh-inning stretch, to similarly enthusiastic crowds. By Game 3, a bigger crowd of 27,000 was in attendance. Not to be outdone, the Red Sox ratcheted up the pageantry when the Series relocated to Boston for the next three games. At Fenway Park, “The Star-Spangled Banner” moved from the seventh-inning stretch to the pregame festivities, and the team coupled the playing of the song with the introduction of wounded soldiers who had received free tickets.
Like the Chicago fans, the normally reserved Boston crowd erupted for the pregame anthem and the hobbled heroes. As the Tribune wrote of the wounded soldiers at Game 6, “[T]heir entrance on crutches supported by their comrades evoked louder cheers than anything the athletes did on the diamond.”
The red sox ended up winning the Series in six games, their third championship in four years and their last for the next 86…
Still, the Series’ most enduring legacy belongs to a song. Other major league teams noticed the popular reaction to “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1918, and over the next decade it became standard for World Series and holiday games. In subsequent years, through subsequent wars, it grew into the daily institution we know today.
Congress didn’t officially adopt the “The Star-Spangled Banner” until 1931 — and by that time it was already a baseball tradition steeped in wartime patriotism. Thanks to a brass band, some fickle fans and a player who snapped to attention on a somber day in September, the old battle ballad was the national pastime’s anthem more than a decade before it was the nation’s.
Colin Kaepernick, Marshawn Lynch, Malcolm Jenkins and whoever cares to join them in their ridiculous protest this year. Remember the history of the national anthem when you are on your knee or raising your fist. The National anthem has been throughout history in sports a healing, uniting song that brings Americans together. What you are doing is tearing us apart.