If an anthem is sung before a sporting event, but nobody’s allowed in the building to hear it, does it matter?
In the latest “controversy” that has invigorated the minds of sports fans as we continue to make sense of sports being played in a pandemic, the issue of national anthems being played before games has come up. Many sports have been in front of (mostly) crowdless venues over the last few months, but you can still hear renditions of the U.S. and Canadian anthems played before games.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made headlines when he announced his team wasn’t playing the American national anthem before games, a policy he had enacted since the beginning of the season.
It didn’t take long before the NBA stepped in and said they had to, with teams starting to show up to games. Some argue it may have completely undone any social currency they gained in allowing players to protest in last season’s bubble.
“We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country,” Cuban said in a statement following the NBA’s decision. “But we also loudly hear the voices of those who feel the anthem does not represent them. We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard, because they have not been.”
The Mavs didn’t get much support from their fellow Dallas club, the Stars, either.
We have issued the following statement regarding the National Anthem. pic.twitter.com/7ZR7HXMW73
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) February 10, 2021
The Stars had no trouble involving themselves in the matter despite the divisiveness rooted in their anthem’s history; from extended lyrics that reflect a time period where slavery still existed, to its days as a vehicle for protest –– most recently through former quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Here is the Stars’ most egregious consequence of their statement: it disregards the Mavericks’ desire to hear out voices (mostly persons of color) who feel the anthem doesn’t represent them. The Stars ultimately satisfied a faction of their fan base that lies in traditionalism and conservative culture in favour of hearing from marginalized communities who don’t see the use in having the anthem before games.
The Stars could have gone about their business and played the anthem without much fanfare, but bringing attention to it in light of the Mark Cuban news sends the wrong message. It comes across as an attempted one-up over the Mavericks, while puffing their chest over being traditionalist.
Never mind that you can spot, whether in-person at an arena or during a broadcast, fans either getting to their seats, getting concessions, or on their phones during a point that is supposedly sacred.
The team’s decision to let everyone know they’ll still play the anthem is weird, but they, at least, have fans to play it in front of. Dallas is among the few NHL franchises who have allowed fans in their building amidst a global pandemic.
It feels downright awkward to see teams, in particular Canadian ones, stand at attention for their anthem as piped-in crowd noise comes in to simulate actual game play.
Who are those anthems being played for if fans can’t all be in the stands?
If the reason continues to be a way to honour the valued sacrifices made by our servicemen, wouldn’t that be a slap in the face to frontline workers who sacrifice their time to treat people in a pandemic while encouraging people to stay home and put their lives on hold as vaccines are deployed?
If you go back to the origins of the “Star-Spangled Banner”, its first years are connected to war. It was first played before a baseball game in 1862 during the Civil War and the tradition of playing it before sporting events became a thing during the Second World War, not long after the United States made the song its actual anthem.
Despite its controversial history, fans were at least in the stands to take a moment to honor their country.
In the present, as the world fights off a global crisis, North American sports continue to hold on to this tradition in sports.
Well, not all. While playing in their own pandemic bubble, Major League Soccer didn’t play them before games.
Defending the so-called “time-honored” tradition of playing a national anthem before a game seems bizarre considering the circumstances, and much more harmful to some audiences than they might realize. The Dallas Stars need to recognize that.
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