Sporting events and national anthems: Do they mix?

Once baseball fans in St. Louis came to terms with President Barack Obama sporting a Chicago White Sox jacket while tossing the ceremonial opening pitch at last night’s All-Star Game, the rest of the evening proceeded more or less predictably: another forgettable game, another American League win.

However, in his blog, Unwritten Rules, Globe and Mail baseball writer Jeff Blair picked up on the fact that officials at Busch Stadium decided to play a recorded version of the Canadian national anthem before the game, while the American anthem was sung live by Sheryl Crow. Most of the fans in St. Louis probably couldn’t have cared less. But Canadian Justin Morneau had this to say after the game: “I wasn’t very impressed with that, to tell you the truth. You figure they could find somebody to come and sing the song. They have a hockey team here, the Canadian teams play here. It’s something that didn’t really go over too well. I think if it happened the other way around, if they were playing in Toronto and they did that, it would have been a lot bigger deal.”

Blair goes on to make the case that national anthems at sporting events are an “anachronistic sop to feeble-minded nationalism” — and should be stopped.

An entire YouTube channel could be built around national anthem controversies. José Feliciano singing the Star Spangled Banner in Detroit in 1968. Roseanne Barr’s rendition in San Diego in 1990. The hoisting of an upside-down Canadian flag by the U.S. Marine Corps colour guard at the World Series in Atlanta in 1992. The booing of the American anthem by Montreal Canadiens fans — and the response by fans in Boston. The list grows each year, and the blooper reel fills with singers forgetting words, going off-key and falling on playing surfaces.

So is it time to dispense with anthems at sporting events?

I see Blair’s point about the ritual’s anachronism. The singing and playing of patriotic songs at baseball games goes back at least as far as the First World War. Their current use at what is basically a form of entertainment (Would we sing anthems at the theatre, at movie houses or at the symphony?) nods needlessly in the direction of blind nationalism.

But what about the Olympics? Are they appropriate in a more truly international setting such as that? I can’t watch a Canadian athlete stand with pride on the medal podium without getting at least a little lump in my throat, as was the case when wrestler Carol Huynh won gold and saw the Maple Leaf hoisted at Beijing, below.

2 Replies to “Sporting events and national anthems: Do they mix?”

  1. Good juxtaposition made between sporting events and the Olympics. There is something about the Olympics which heightens a positive nationalistic zeal and emotion. The medal podium is a place where tears of joy are shared between athlete and spectators; that’s special.

  2. Actually…we used to stand up for the national anthem in movie theatres. I recall going to see Dr.Zhivago with a friend who refused to stand and said he would stand during the film if they played the Russian anthem.

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