Still a place for anthems at sporting events

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban caused a brief stir last week when he announced the U.S. national anthem would not be played before his team’s home games.

The reaction to his announcement showed, if nothing else, people are still passionate about the anthem. And while the debate can often get so far off track that it’s no longer even about the anthem anymore, there’s still enough reason to keep the tradition alive.

Just as quickly as the seemingly out of the blue announcement was made, Cuban quickly reversed course. Whatever the National Basketball Association said to him was quite persuasive because it took less than 24 hours to get Cuban to comply and reinstate the anthem.

While that situation may have been quickly defused, the debate as to whether or not a national anthem should even play before a sporting event rages on.
Until recently the singing of O Canada and Star Spangled Banner was just something sports fans stood for before a game without much thought. For most it’s almost become a Pavlovian response. As soon as the music starts we rise, remove our hats and stare off in the distance for about a minute or so while a singer belts out the patriotic tune.

It’s for that reason that some feel anthems at sporting events cheapen their meaning and call for the ritual to be scrapped.

Recently anthems have found a way to overshadow the game itself. National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines in 2016 when he took a knee during the playing of the U.S. anthem ahead of a preseason game as a protest to police brutality. Initially his actions didn’t go over well, but it’s hard to argue with the result. He found a peaceful way to get a conversation started, even if it was an uncomfortable one that most people didn’t want to have. While his protest essentially led to him being blackballed from the NFL, by 2020 professional sports leagues across North America had taken to encouraging its minority stars to speak out. Major League Baseball’s Opening Day last July saw players all take a knee before the playing of the anthem, with some choosing to continue to do so when the music started.
There are those who would rather sports just stay out of politics altogether-and it’s understandable. After all, at their core sports are just entertainment and people tune in to escape from the stresses of everyday life. But there’s no denying the power sports can have to create social change, even if it doesn’t happen overnight. That Kaepernick went from outcast to having his example followed by the ‘core four’ North American professional sports leagues in about five years is nothing short of amazing.

As odd as the anthem even being played at a sporting event can be-particularly if the two teams are from the same country-it’s also worth asking how many people would even hear their country’s anthem if not for sports. At the local level it’s also a great opportunity for a young singer to gain experience performing before a crowd-both Avril Lavigne and Ryland James got their starts singing at Napanee Raider and Deseronto Storm games respectively.

While the sport at hand may have nothing to do with the country, it’s worth hearing O Canada too many times rather than not enough. It can also at times serve as a reminder that as great as a country can be, it’s not always perfect either.

-Adam Prudhomme

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