I hope I don’t come off sounding too unpatriotic for this, but I hate “God Bless America” at the ballpark, or any other sporting event for that matter. It doesn’t belong there any longer, and it most definitely doesn’t deserve the same respect. It had its place and time, but that time has gone and it is now time to send it to the showers. I am patriotic. I love my country. I love the flag. Perhaps that is why I can’t stand this seventh inning disrespect.
My last visit to the ballpark this summer on a Sunday afternoon in Seattle found me rising for the traditional singing of the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I love this part of the game. I love this part of tradition and I believe that all sporting contests should start this way. And, why not play it before a baseball game? After all, baseball may have started the tradition in the first place, though not at the beginning of the game but during the seventh inning stretch. According to an article I found on ESPN.com, “The Song Remains the Same,” Game 1 of the World Series between the Cubs and the Red Sox in 1918 would establish its place in the sport. Eventually it would be moved from the seventh to the pre-game festivities, as an opening of the contest. I think we can all agree that it belongs there. It belongs there because sporting contests are often referred to as “battles” so the connection to armed conflict isn’t too big a stretch, especially since the origins of the song are centered directly there.
I very much appreciate the significance of the national anthem. I teach American History, Contemporary Issues, and Civics so I know the story well. The song was written by Francis Scott Key to commemorate the battle at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. This part of the story is what makes the national anthem great – Key saw the American flag flying over the fort after an intense battle and knew that American forces had endured; that America would endure. These facts are set in history. It is also set in history that President Wilson recognized the song for official use in 1916 and it was adopted as the national anthem in 1931 by a congressional resolution and signed into law by President Hoover.
Typical protocol for the national anthem is as follows: when the flag comes onto the field, all stand and face the flag, take off their hats (if they’re men), put their hand or hat over their heart (military personnel in or out of uniform salute), and stand respectfully (quiet and still) while the anthem is played. One part that people often forget is that they should continue this respect until the flag has left the field. This is the proper way to honor the symbol of our nation, one that men and women throughout our history have fought and died for – protecting our own liberties or those in need of some.
The seventh inning stretch gets my American blood boiling. The public address announcer says something to the effect of, “Please rise and remove your hats for the singing of ‘God Bless America’.” What happens? Nearly everyone stands and removes their hats for the singing. However, I DO NOT AND NEVER WILL. I don’t care if I get “the look” from others. I don’t care if people think I am being disrespectful. I sit in my seat, talk, eat, I don’t remove my hat and generally just go about my business as I normally would during the seventh inning stretch. I am not trying to be obstinate or overly obtuse.
Wikipedia tells me “God Bless America” was inserted into our national pastime as a display of solidarity against the tragedy of 9/11. The Padres, in a show of sensitivity to our collective beat down, first thought about removing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” baseball’s anthem, and inserting the familiar tune. But that tradition would have been missed so, instead, they inserted it just before the anthem of frivolity. All of baseball was soon mandated to follow suit. I understand the reason behind this action. I even participated in it for a while. Although I understood and I participated in it, the more I thought about it the less comfortable I was with it. These days, apparently, it is optional and left to individual teams to decide how or if they want to continue its use.
So why do I have such a problem with it? Well, it is NOT the national anthem!! It doesn’t deserve the same respect! Don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful song, but to give it undue significance is disrespectful to the national anthem. It has been artificially elevated to a lofty position and, as a result, it lessens the value of the national anthem. Nothing else should ever be raised to that level. Nothing. The national anthem is enough to remind us of our past, our present, and our future. We don’t need “God Bless America” for that.
Next time you are at the ballpark, please, don’t participate in this now silly and inauthentic show of patriotism. Let the MLB and the teams know that it is time to eject “God Bless America” from baseball and return the game back to the way it was. Please keep and even elevate your acknowledgement and respect for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” After all, it is still there, gallantly streaming, over the land of the free and brave.