There seem to be two handbooks governing acceptable conduct during the national anthem, one for fans and another for athletes. While the anthem protests are causing angst in many quarters, shift the focus from the sidelines to the seats and you’ll notice behavior that is far more disrespectful.
When I hear the anthem, I think of places like Wake Island, Bataan, Bunker Hill, Hue, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima. I think of my grandfather, who fought in WWII. But I also think of other fine Americans, many of whom never served. While I disagree with the anthem protesters, I also recognize and respect their right to protest. The long-term efficacy of the protests, however, other than riling up the several NFL team owners and the tweeter-in-chief, remains to be seen.
You can do a lot in the roughly 90 seconds from “O say can you see” to “the home of the brave.” Sit, stand, kneel, raise a fist, or place a hand over your heart. I once watched a guy pick his nose for the entire anthem. Was his gesture a stand against the rising cost of tissues?
Another time, I saw a vendor place his beer tray on the ground and stand at attention. Waiting customers were also observant, save one dipsomaniac who berated the vendor with language that was beyond blue, even for a Philadelphia sporting event. If I can play Solomon here, this Bud’s for him.
In every city, at any venue, regardless of the teams involved, while “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays, you’ll see fans using their cellphones, scarfing nachos, chugging beer, and yelling at the home team, the visiting team, other fans, the moon and/or the sun. There are always more than a few men that leave their hats on. And quite a few healthy-looking people remain seated. Yet where’s the rancor?
Given the behavior in the stands, why are fans given a free pass while protesting athletes are treated with varying degrees of scorn?
If what people do during the anthem is causing discord, perhaps the anthem itself, indirectly, is the problem. So why not change it? If people were moshing at a wedding, wouldn’t the DJ change the record?
There is some opposition against “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem due to the expanded lyrical content and because it was written by a slaveholding Southerner. Perhaps most important is that it is an extremely difficult song to sing and has humbled even the most gifted performers.
As an alternative, I propose Neil Diamond’s “America.” Symbolically, it is perfect. It is a triumphant song that speaks to the country’s immigrant and itinerant roots. Like many other American creations, it had a successful second act after being attached to a project (The Jazz Singer remake) that stumbled. As a bonus, it will encourage audience participation. Fans can raise their fists in unison with each cry of “Today!”
Due to the wonderful differences that have always made America great (and still do), we will likely never have unanimous agreement on anything. (That only happens in Russia.) But in this country, imperfection is our unifying quality. So change the record, and everyone can thrust a fist in the air. Of thee I sing …Today!
Paul F. Bradley is a writer in Yardley. firstname.lastname@example.org