Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

National Anthem Adds Little to Sporting Events

Commentator Frank Deford takes issue with the playing of the national anthem at U.S. sporting events. To his ears, the practice has become obligatory, even tired.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The Tour de France has its' traditional yellow jersey and American sports events have their own tradition, as we hear from commentary Frank Deford.

FRANK DEFORD reporting:

Watching the World Cup, I find it especially moving at the start of each game when the two teams as the national anthems of each of their countries is played. I'm particularly touched by the teams who stand for their anthem with their arms about one another's shoulders.

Playing the anthems seems so right here. After all, the World Cup is a very special competition between the nations of the world that is contested only every four years.

Okay, but then tune into some everyday hockey game between, say, Calgary and Nashville or some baseball game between Toronto and Texas and every time it's obligatory to start off playing the national anthems of both the United States and Canada. Come on! Countries aren't playing in games like this, just municipalities which have paid professionals to represent their franchises.

What is it with this nationalism - even I would say, forced patriotism -that only inflicts national anthems upon sports in this country. Hey, they're just amusements. In New York, you go to Madison Square Garden to Shea Stadium to Yankee Stadium, for a game, the performance begins with The Star Spangled Banner.

Unidentified Speaker: (singing) Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light...

DEFORD: You go to Carnegie Hall for a concert, Lincoln Center for a ballet, Broadway for a play, all you hear before the show starts is a warning to turn off your cell phones.

Why is there a difference? In fact, the playing of an anthem has long become such a rote experience in American sports that it was years ago when I first heard what was already an old joke then. What are the last two words of the national anthem?

Unidentified Speaker: (singing) O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

DEFORD: Play ball!

The anthem has become so everyday at sports events here that some years ago it even became necessary for public address announcers to explain why exactly it is that we are playing the song: To honor America, will you please rise.

We have to be told the reasons to stand up?

But, you see, in the United States, the anthem has been reduced to just another gimmick like the seventh inning stretch. In fact, The Star Spangled Banner is so ordinary now, that at championship events like the Super Bowl, when the anthem would be a nice, appropriate gesture, it's not enough just to sing our country's song. No, it's so run-of-the-mill that now we also have to then have a bunch of fighter jets fly over. The national anthem has become a lounge act for military showbiz.

Next Tuesday is our American national holiday, the 4th of July. Wouldn't it be nice if all baseball teams would agree to swear off playing the anthem at every game during the season and only play it once a year. Look out to center field. Just as Francis Scott Key assured us, our flag is still there.

INSKEEP: Commentary from Frank Deford, at Sports Illustrated, who stands with his hand over his heart each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford