It takes just about two minutes to perform. Sometimes a little longer. Sometimes a bit shorter. It is The Star-Spangled Banner, our national anthem. Yet, even though this song that represents so much is quite short, for whatever reason some people just can’t stand still and shut their mouths for 120 seconds to honor the greatest nation ever known to man.
A few years back, Congress addressed etiquette for the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem. It seems pretty simple and very clear cut:
“When saying the pledge of allegiance, citizens of all ages should stand at attention, face the flag, and salute by placing the right hand over the heart. Men should remove their hats, and women any sports caps. When in uniform, military personnel, firefighters, and law enforcement officers give a military salute. Veterans and service personnel out of uniform may give the military salute or place the right hand over the heart. Everyone, even very young children, should rise, remain standing, and salute by placing the right hand over the heart during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner–first note to last. The anthem isn’t easy to sing, and you need not do so if you don’t have the necessary range. But you must stand quietly until ‘O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave’ has rung out and the music ends. If you are on the way to your seat at a sports event, or in any public place, and the first strains of the anthem are heard, stop where you are and stand at attention until the end. Don’t talk, chew gum, eat, or smoke during the singing of the anthem.”
Got it? Me too. Sadly, too many just can’t wrap their shallow minds around this.
For the most part, Americans are seemingly very patriotic at ball games and other events when the national anthem plays. Chicago Blackhawks fans took it to a whole new level during the Gulf War, standing and cheering raucously throughout the song. That tradition continues today. Bruins backers followed suit this season following the Boston terror bombings. It’s moving to see the pride in our country is alive and well. For most.
Next time you are at a ball game or rally, check out the crowd while the anthem plays. Most will have their hands on their hearts. Military members will be saluting. Often the song itself is sung by cute kids, who nail every single word with perfection, while their proud parents look on. But, inevitably, there will be the disrespectful sprinkled throughout each and every section, no matter the event, state, or venue.
It’s bad enough when people refuse to stand for “religious reasons.” You can live and work in this country and reap all of its incredible benefits, but rising for a couple of minutes would be outrageous apparently. Then you have the Occupy Wall Street types. They’re not usually at the ball park, but they are very often at political events. They don’t stand because America to them is evil or oppressing or some other manufactured nonsense designed to give them something to think about other than what sheets to use in mom’s basement later that night. Perhaps the worst offenders though are those who deep down are ordinary Americans. The disrespect for our flag, our veterans, and our country as a whole, seems to come not from malice but from laziness.
Just a few weeks ago while peering out of the broadcast booth I noticed a father in his 40s shaking hands and saying hello to the group he was going to sit with while the anthem played. That couldn’t wait until after the song? I noticed a woman continuing her purchase of some food during the anthem performance. Will that precious pretzel turn to dust if you wait a moment? Kids were walking up the steps toward the concourse while the singer delivered a beautiful rendition of the timeless piece. If you want to give the children a free pass, fine; but guess who was chugging up the stairs right behind them? Mom and dad.
As hard as it is to not scream at some of these people, I at least have an outlet to reach the masses on this topic. Perhaps someone will read this column and think twice the next time that perfect Francis Scott Key-John Stafford Smith amalgamation fills the air. However, there are others we need to be concerned about. While some classless clown is texting or chatting to his buddy during the anthem, there are children watching this behavior and thinking that it is OK. While someone else is sitting down, purposely protesting the honoring of America, there is a brave veteran who sees this. Someone who selflessly fought for us and likely lost friends overseas is met with complete disregard from those who are oh so spoiled.
I have studied behavior during the national anthem for some time. I greatly appreciated how hockey stars like Patrick Roy and Wayne Gretzky, both from Canada, always stood and showed great respect until that final note played. But for every Jeff Saturday who actually sings the lyrics while the anthem is played or Charles Tillman, a former military brat who stands at attention with supreme focus, you have other football players who frankly could care less about the song or what it stands for.
Sports in this country are innately patriotic. Many countries do not pay respect to their flag at athletic events. Yet, somehow, many think very little about just how great this custom is. Other than perhaps Happy Birthday, The Star-Spangled Banner and “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” are probably the two songs most heard by American citizens. Both songs are performed at virtually every baseball game and the anthem is showcased at virtually all sporting events. Despite the repetition, the words are butchered again and again. It’s bad enough that people sing ‘Cracker Jacks” instead of “Cracker Jack” (the plural is the same as the singular, like deer) but at least you can say that’s a harmless baseball song. The Star-Spangled Banner is routinely botched as well.
“For the land of the free” is the way many will sing it, when it’s really “O’er the land of the free.” If we can’t count on people to learn the words in the first place how can we be surprised when many act inappropriately during the song’s presentation?
Sarah Steelman, the 2012 candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri, who was endorsed by Sarah Palin, told me recently that she sings the anthem loud and proud at her son’s sporting events. Sometimes she is the only one singing. Good for her. Palin herself has often talked about the chills she gets and the emotions she feels each and every time The Star-Spangled Banner plays. These women have a healthy appreciation for our exceptionalism.
Even as a child, I remember patriotism running through my veins. As goofy as my friends and I were as teens, never missing a chance to fool around, the buck stopped with anti-American sentiment. I remember vividly flicking a cap off of some kid’s head who thought he was being ironic or edgy by leaving it on during the anthem. Perhaps I shouldn’t have smacked his lid, but there’s no doubt he should have removed it in the first place.
The way I handle things now is probably a product of age. I don’t knock anyone’s hat off anymore, although I often seethe when I notice the gum chewing, chit chat, phone calls, and all around boorish behavior. There are still ways to show those who are blatantly disparaging our flag that their actions are unacceptable. A cold stare is often effective. Singing the song with gusto is a way to lead by example. The best advice, though, is very simple. Stand up, put your hand on your heart, look at our beautiful flag for two minutes, and remember all of those who sacrificed for our precious freedom. Thank God for all the parents out there who are teaching their children to do just that. Now maybe they can work on their neighbors, co-workers, and fellow fans.