Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Patriotism and Sports

Thanks to my friends over at the Sports Frog for once again providing some very interesting fodder on a July morning. An article by Bruce Jenkins in the San Francisco Chronicle about Roger Federer winning his third straight Wimbledon title contained a very intriguing paragraph, which is repeated below:

When you enter this hallowed arena, forget everything you've ever experienced at major sporting events. The buildup is that finest of all sporting sounds -- murmuring -- without a trace of music, fanfare or even a public-address announcement. First come the ball boys and ball girls, then the linespeople, marching in earnest fashion to the accompaniment of mild applause. Then the chair umpire walks out, with chief referee Alan Mills regally hovering near the locker-room entrance. There is no national anthem; these people know what country they're in. The British save their anthem for international events (think England-Germany soccer), and in that proper setting, it brings shivers down the spine.

This is going to be rather controversial, so I feel I should point out before I even start that I love this great nation and what it stands for. I feel blessed to live in this country.

I thought about it more and more, and I realized that in this nation, sports and patriotism always travel hand in hand. Before every sporting event of any consequence, the national anthem is played or sung. In addition to that, before the larger events, there is usually some kind of military presence, one that could be as small as a 2 or 3 man color guard or as large as a stealth bomber flyover.

Should this be the case? I'm not so sure. While I understand the value of hearing the national anthem, and I certainly think it is important to note all of the good that this nation is capable of, does it really benefit us as Americans to constantly hear our national anthem before everyday sporting events? I can only speak from my own experience, but hearing the Star Spangled Banner before every sporting event has taken away a lot of the magic and grandeur of the song itself. It has become routine. And, as I look around the arena when the anthem plays, I seem to notice a lot of people who just don't care. They've been numbed to what it should stand for.

Furthermore, what exactly does sports have to do with this nation and with the military? How are they related? Doesn't it minimize the true impact of this nation's military to drag them out in front of a crowd every time a sporting event occurs? There are more important things for them to be worrying about than some ceremony before a game. Should we extend this routine further and sing the national anthem before every day of work? What about every time we leave our house?

I think we all realize that sports are less important than the war in Iraq or the military actions against Osama bin Laden--we don't need to be constantly reminded of it. If we really care about the military, we should send cards and letters to our soldiers (whether we are related to them or not) and do our best to ensure that the troops are paid what they deserve. Our perfunctory gestures of patriotism before each sporting event ring hollow. America is one of the few nations that intertwines so closely its national pride and patriotism with sporting events. Every now and again, those gestures are a poignant reminder of the power and beauty of this nation. Repeated often, they become little more than just another show.

I would unquestionably be in favor of playing our national anthem during international events or the biggest games (Super Bowl, NBA Finals, World Series, Final Four, etc.). This would ensure people appreciate the anthem and its meaning more when they hear it, since they're not hearing it all the time. It's the mundane, repetitive replaying of the anthem before every single sporting event that I have a concern with. Americans can keep things in perspective just fine; we don't need to see the military or hear the anthem every time we congregate. It's too much. It's like if you tell someone how wonderful they are day in and day out, the compliments will eventually get old and boring. Sports are great. Patriotism is great. I just don't know if they're great together.

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