As a wee tyke playing Pop Warner football for the Anderson Wildcats, I would get so excited when my dad took me to an Anderson High football game. To see the mighty Cubs walk out two-by-two onto the football was thrilling beyond words.
And when the team lined up for the National Anthem, I fantasized about the night when I too would be a varsity football player and get to stand in reverence for the Star Spangled Banner before my game. And I remember the first time that happened – I was so stoked.
My how times have changed.
No longer do young athletes have to wait until they are varsity prep athletes to hear the National Anthem. Au contraire, I have heard that beloved ballad hundreds if not thousands of times as it is played before all youth football games, many lower-level high school games as well as of course varsity level along with college and pro games.
In my day, we heard the high school band play it. High school bands being what they were, sometimes there was room for improvement in the product, but the reverence was always there. Today, that is not necessarily the case.
About half the time at high school games, someone will sing the anthem. And on at least half of those occasions, the rendition is more suitable for an American Idol audition then for our National Anthem. Some are just downright disgusting, and the more extreme the performance the more resounding the applause.
I do not get it. It is about the song, not the singer. To provide positive reinforcement when the song is denigrated to somehow say, “Look at me, listen to me. I am more important than the Star-Spangled Banner,” is just reinforcing a world that sometimes dictates up is down and right is left.
Whenever I hear it sung correctly I always try and thank the singer. Maybe a note or two was missed along the way, but a respectful off-key rendition trumps a perfectly sung ad-lib version any day.
The worse version I ever had to endure was at a youth football game when the canned offering was Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock – the entire thing, all four-plus minutes of it compared to just less than two minutes in a traditional offering.
Three renditions stand out to me, two at the same event in different years which did not leave a dry eye in the house. One year at the Tim Brown Memorial Wrestling Tournament at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium the National Anthem was performed on bagpipes and another year a woman sang it as well as I have ever heard it.
The third was this summer in Turlock when someone played the Star Spangled Banner on guitar, and not the Hendrix version. It was breathtaking.
Not everyone shares my respect for our nation’s song. Much has been made of Colin Kaepernick’s inability to find work this year because he has been blackballed for sitting out the National Anthem before last year’s Forty Niner games as a protest for police violence against minorities.
While the roots of his protest may indeed have many sides, I am not going to get into that here. I personally took offense at his actions, but I do not blame him. I blame the NFL for allowing it to happen.
When you work for a living you are bound by your employer’s edicts. Years ago I did something an employer did not care for, and I was disciplined for it – severely. I support Kaepernick’s right to protest – by all means, pick up a sign and scream away – but the NFL has allowed this sort of thing in the past even though as employees, NFL players are bound by certain rules.
If a player has something taped to his shoes in support of a disciplined player, he will be fined. But when those clowns from the Rams took the field with a “Hands up, don’t shoot,” pose, the NFL should have fined them severely. Again, they have every right to protest – even if “Hands up, don’t shoot,” was a fabrication – but they can do so on their own time. Their constitutional freedom of speech does not extend to the workplace.
And now another Bay Area football player has decided his viewpoints are more important than the flag. I’m not going to give him any publicity here because I have not much cared for his attitude over the years. I hope his team and/or the league sacks up and fines him. But I doubt they have the guts to do so.
So high school football players when you take the field under the lights soon, I hope you show respect for the National Anthem and all that it stands for, as well as for all those who have sacrificed for this country. And as a side note, save the hooping, hollering and helmet thrusting for after the ballad – not the final few stanzas.