I think often of my student Allen who used to play guitar from the back of the bus and sing us from one event to the next. One of the kindest, most gentle souls I ever knew, he grew up to be a soldier — and killed himself after multiple deployments overseas. Not much to sing about over there, for sure.
People have every right to take a knee, raise a fist, or do whatever they want concerning our flag, national anthem, or pledge. That's what America is all about; the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that right. If you don't like it — look away or boycott whatever product is associated with the display that you reject. That is your right as well.
As a Vietnam-era veteran, I have a problem with the playing of "The Star Spangled Banner" at sporting events that goes deeper than that. I don't want it played at sporting events period. The seriousness of war is too sacred to be linked with the frivolity of sports.
It wasn't until World War I-when recruitment efforts were falling flat — that someone got the idea to play the anthem at ball games, hoping that fellows full of hot dogs and beer would be more inclined to raise their hands to be gassed in foxholes in Europe. It worked — and a strange and inappropriate tradition began.
Now, before every sporting event in America, fans stand (those who are still sober enough) and attempt to sing a song with lyrics that few understand. "The Star-Spangled Banner" is really more of a prayer or a plea than a song. Someone who watched the flag waving in the dark at a nearby fort — as rockets lit up the landscape — wonders at dawn: Is it still waving? Are we still free and in the fight — or have we surrendered or gone down in defeat?
Interestingly, this question is left as a rhetorical for future generations to ponder within the scope of their own circumstances. Are we still free and in the fight ... ?
Our national an them deserves to be played at occasions that are appropriate for a serious consideration of that question, and a careful reflection of that songwriter's quiet plea. The last two words of "The Star Spangled Banner" are not and never should have been "Play ball!"
On behalf of my dear student Allen, I would ask that all sporting venues reconsider their frivolous use of the song that encapsulates our most basic quest for freedom and replace it with a team "fight song" that works for a sports occasion. Football isn't war. Baseball isn't war. NASCAR isn't war. War is war. Please honor and respect it as such.
And if you can't — at least be willing to match whatever you pay for your seat in the stadium with a contribution to Wounded Warriors or other veteran's association. Like my student Allen, 22 veterans, many of whom suffer from PTSD, commit suicide every day. That's nothing to cheer about.