The National Anthem Symbolic Relevance

Armstrong Williams

2/15/2011 9:13:23 AM - Armstrong Williams

I've read (and maybe even said) some incendiary things through the years that were designed to elicit a response or stoke the ire of readers in order to initiate a frank conversation. But a recent piece by national columnist Kevin Blackistone makes even the seasoned political watcher cringe.

In his recent missive entitled, "Time to Turn Off the National Anthem Before Sports Events," Mr. Blackistone argues that the singing of the National Anthem at sporting events has outlived its purpose. He submits that very few Americans even know the song, and suggests that still fewer can recall why the words were written in the first place. There's nothing about playing T-ball that should hearken memories of a lopsided British attack on Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.

"Sports," Mr. Blackistone writes, "have and continue to ritualize [the Anthem] with barely a shred of relevance."

Singing a song about soldiers raising a flag following hours of cannon bombardment may have little to do with the indoor soccer game parents are watching, but that same song does remind everyone at that game that they stand there because of American sacrifice.

Blood was shed so that we might be free. When we say that soldiers "will never be forgotten," shouldn't we mean it? We honor and commemorate their lives and the sacrifices they made for us by remembering them. That's why we sing the National Anthem at sporting events. We don't do it because there's some underlying connection between the American Revolution and sports, but because sports bring us together to enjoy something as a group. It unites us beyond our cultural and political differences. The stockbroker sits next to the dockworker, and both are united by their devotion to the local team. Isn't that the perfect time to celebrate the nation that embodies that very idea?

Yes, pop icon Christina Aguilera flubbed the anthem on America's grandest sports stage, but to use that episode to argue that the lyrics and meaning of the song have gone the way of 8-track tapes is ludicrous.

Many can't recite even the preamble to the Constitution. Still fewer can tell you on what day the Declaration of Independence was signed, let alone who actually declared independence and from what oppressive land. Would Mr. Blackistone suggest we toss such documents into the trash? Or not have them hanging in our institutions of government simply because the magistrate can't recall their every word?

I suspect the author has a hidden agenda - a beef with war in general. He almost betrays his true feelings when he writes, "[S]ports framed by the politics of militarism has nothing to do with football, baseball or a NASCAR race." The politics of militarism? What happened to his original, simpler point that we should abandon the song because a cute pop icon didn't know the words?

Now the National Anthem is offensive because it smacks of militarism, whatever that means? There's an immense difference between singing a song that recalls the unlikely victory of our upstart nation against a powerful oppressor, and promoting "militarism." It's the same difference between a man who enjoys a romantic wedding anniversary with his beloved spouse, and another man who heads to a bar to "romance" the women he finds there. Can't Mr. Blackistone see the distinction?

Our National Anthem is sung and remembered at most major events because it is the preeminent song of our country. Just as we have a national bird, a national banner (Old Glory), a national tree and other reminders of what makes us distinctly American.

When you begin to tear down one of these symbols, in the name of practicality, you devalue the thing it represents: Freedom. Sure, we can shave three extra minutes off of the World Series and get to the action, but at what cost? Why would you rob a father of the moment when his son asks why dad took off his hat "during that song?"

These are the teachable moments of life - the living history of our nation as we hand down tradition not through an iPod, but person to person, to be set in stone through repetition and example. Why cheat us of that, simply because someone thinks it's political militarism. We're a nation with a proud story of overcoming great odds to win our own freedom. Shouldn't we celebrate that in some way when we gather together?

All gave some. Some gave all. We honor those soldiers, sailors and airmen who sacrificed what they had in the name of freedom. Because they fought and died for liberty, we don't have to. Instead, we get to enjoy a Sunday afternoon game, watching the boys of fall on the gridiron. I think I can hum a few bars and think of Old Glory in exchange for such a privilege.