Why Do We Sing the National Anthem at Sporting Events?

(Last Updated On: August 21, 2018)

Why Do We Sing the National Anthem at Sporting Events?
The singing of The Star-Spangled Banner, the national anthem of the United States, has become an inevitable occurrence at just about every major sporting event you can think of, from baseball games to motocross championships. Many people don’t question this long-standing American tradition, often rising to attention as they sing along.

However, with many sports stars and notable figures choosing to take a knee during the singing of the national anthem lately, there has been much controversy around this American staple. This ultimately begs the question – why do we sing the National Anthem at sporting events in the first place?

Why Do We Sing the National Anthem at Sporting Events?

The tradition of singing the national anthem at sporting events began during the 1918 World Series. During the seventh-inning stretch of the first game between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, the band began to play The Star-Spangled Banner (it was not the official national anthem at that time). Players turned to face the centerfield flagpole, and fans, who were already on their feet, began to sing along. By the end, nearly the entire stadium was singing, and the song ended to a chorus of thunderous applause.

At the time, World War I was nearing an end. Singing The Star-Spangled Banner that day was a well-timed display of comradery and patriotism. Harry Frazee, then owner of the Red Sox, subsequently began each other game of the series by having the band play the song.

The playing of The Star-Spangled Banner before games became such a hit, that after the war ended, the song continued to be played at baseball games. However, it was mainly reserved for notable occasions, like holidays, opening day, and the World Series.

During World War II, the song became even more popular, as it was a way for large crowds to show their patriotism. Additionally, advances in technology meant that the song could be played over speaker systems instead of requiring a band, making it easier to incorporate into games. By the time the war had ended, The Star-Spangled Banner had shifted from an exclusively baseball tradition, and quickly spread to other sporting events.

Origin of The Star-Spangled Banner

Though it wouldn’t officially become the national anthem until 1931, The Star-Spangled Banner had dominated the patriotic song landscape for more than a century. It was penned by attorney and amature poet Francis Scott Key on September 14, 1814, during the War of 1812 in Baltimore.

Key was watching U.S. soldiers raise the American flag over Fort McHenry when the lyrics came to mind. This iconic moment marked a crucial victory for the U.S., after withstanding 25 hours of British bombardment the previous day. The British had just invaded Washington, D.C., setting fire to the White House, the Capitol, and other important government buildings.

Fun fact: The melody Key used to accompany the lyrics was taken from a popular English drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” The song was extremely popular amongst Americans in 1814, and was also used for songs such as “Adams and Liberty.” Considered the first significant campaign song in American political history, it was used by those in support of John Adams during the 1800 United States presidential election.

National Anthem Protests

National Anthem Protests
Today, the national anthem has been making lots of news because of the various player protests surrounding it.

All this uproar stems from former San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. On August 14, 2016, he chose to remain seated during the national anthem of a preseason football game. Though this actions went unnoticed for two weeks, it eventually boiled over into a media firestorm. Kaepernick asserted that his refusal to stand for the anthem was a silent protest against systematic oppression and racial injustices. Many, however, saw his behavior as disrespectful to the nation and the military.

After speaking with former U.S. Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, Kaepernick amended his protest, opting to instead take a knee in an effort to emphasize he was not directing his dissent towards the military. While many continued to lash out towards Kaepernick, he gradually began to gain support amongst some fans, players, and coaches from not only the NFL, but other sports leagues as well.

Overall, these demonstrations have generated mixed reactions among the general public. For some, they are a totally acceptable use of the 1st Amendment. People in this camp tend to see the protests as patriotic and politically necessary. Others maintain they are disrespectful to the flag, the police, and the military, and that they have no place at a sporting event.

On May 23, 2018, in an effort to address the NFL anthem protests, the league approved a new policy requiring all players to stand during the anthem, or be given the option to stay in the locker room during its performance.

It goes without saying, the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner during sporting events has a long and controversial history.

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