The history of the anthem in sports
Over the last couple of years the national anthem has become a source of controversy in the world of sports. With some players using the playing of the anthem as a time to protest various issues, fan reaction was split which saw ratings dip for leagues like the NBA and NFL. The push back led to discussions of how to handle the situation with such possibilities as leaving teams in the locker room during the anthem. The back-and-forth brought up the question as to why the anthem is played before sporting events.
In 1918, the Red Sox and Cubs were set to face off in the World Series. With World War I raging overseas, a band played the Star Spangled Banner during the seventh inning stretch as a show of support for the troops and united fans through patriotic pride. After seeing the response from the crowd, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee began every remaining game of the series with the song. At this point, the tune wasn’t the official anthem. Playing of the song continued in baseball but was reserved for special occacions such as opening day, holidays and the World Series.
By the end of World War II the song had become the official national anthem. Its popularity and technology had taken it from a baseball tradition to other sports. Loudspeakers across the country blasted pre-recorded versions of the song or a local vocal talent would belt the song with pride.
Over the years the song became intertwined with sports to the point of being expected as part of pre-game ceremonies. Pagentry for the national anthem also grew and some of the biggest names in entertainment competed for a chance to sing the song at marquee sporting events.
One such event was the Super Bowl in 1991. A mere 10 days after the first Gulf War conflict began, Whitney Houston’s version of the anthem returned the song to it’s sports roots, uniting fans in attendance and watching at home in pride and support of American troops.
Ten years later the song and the sport where the tradition started were once again called on to pull the country together. Days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, baseball fans watched as the country tried to return to normal with the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” before the first pitch as the New York Mets hosted the Atlanta Braves.
The anthem isn’t limited to the big leagues. Before high school sporting events those in attendance rise and face the flag as the song is played. Even youth leagues kick off their day with a moment to acknowledge America and its anthem.
In Brasstown, the loud roar of motors fall silent at Tri County Racetrack before racing starts in order for the anthem to be performed. Track promoter Ray Cook says he has multiple reasons for playing the anthem. “I think it unifies the crowd on something we can agree on for the night and makes it more enjoyable.” Cook finished his thoughts by saying, “It’s just the right thing to do. It teaches our younger generation to respect our country.”
It’s ironic that the song that has caused division in the sports world was originally played as an effort to unify. It’s also hard to imagine a sporting event not including the song in pre-game ceremonies. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.