Don't play it again, Sam

I watched more of the Super Bowl this year than I usually do. And what I saw was an epic train wreck. Somewhere in there was a football game, but it was buried in an enormous pile of cultural dreck. I came away feeling like I do at the free sample carts at Costco. This country is weak, sick, and gluttonous.

There were so many strained moments, but for me the most bizarre was the segment on the National Anthem, This is now one of the most uncomfortable moments in all of sports, as it's just picking the scab of racism, game after game. The players, most of whom are actual or potential victims of racial injustice, seem to hate the song and the ritual of standing there saluting the system that would kill them as soon as look at them. And who can blame them?

The song itself is a self-parody. The melody is an old English drinking song, and the lyrics tell the tale of some obscure military victory literally 209 years ago.

This year, the geniuses of the pro football establishment decided that we needed two people to sing the anthem at the Super Bowl. They had a white country guy and a Black R&B woman. Somehow this was supposed to patch up our divisions. Instead it just highlighted them, even reinforced them. It was painful, and to tell the truth, depressing.

At the end of the vocal butchery, right on cue, fighter jets flew over, reminding us of how we bomb the crap out of people we don't like.

The whole thing has such a 1950 Joe McCarthy feel to it. It's like we're showing the Commies that dang it, everybody in this country is ready to open up a can of whoop-ass on them in the name of capitalism. It's like when they snuck "God" into the Pledge of Allegiance, and onto the currency. "O'er the la-a-a-a-and of the freeeeeeeeee!" Whatever.

Why do we do this before every sporting event? I believe at one time, we did it at the start of every big gathering. But those days are over. We don't do it at college graduations any more. They don't do it at the Oscars, do they? Or at the end of the day on television. (Then again, there no longer is an end of the day on television any more, is there?)

But in sports arenas, for some reason, the jingoistic ditty won't go away. Before every athletic contest, we must sing about Old Glory surviving at Fort Whatever. In olden times, they used to show the playing of the anthem on telecasts of the games, but now, with the exception of championship games, they never do. Even the TV sports people know that it's best to skip it.

Mark Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks pro basketball team, figured out the easiest way to make the anthem less of a sore spot with athletes and fans. He simply decreed that his arena would no longer play it. And so for a couple of months at the start of this season, before the Mavs' home games, there was no anthem played or sung. This took the pressure off the questions of which players would stand, which would kneel, which would stay in the locker room or turn their backs. It made a lot of sense. It was, in fact, a great relief. Cuban is a forward-thinking man.

But the rest of the team owners? Not so much. Sure enough, the league decided that it didn't like what Cuban had done, and now Adam Silver, the commissioner, has ordered the Mavericks to start playing the anthem agan. And I guess at last night's home game against the Atlanta Hawks, they did.

If I were Mark Cuban, I'd find the most outrageous versions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" ever recorded, and play those at the games as a sort of protest. The Jimi Hendrix Woodstock version comes to mind. Maybe a polka version. I'd also commission someone to record the fastest version of the song ever, and use that. See if you could get it down to 30 seconds. Maybe a Devo tribute. Let everybody have a good laugh.

Eventually, the national anthem will be eliminated from sporting events. I applaud Cuban for forcing the issue, and I hope he keeps at it. Maybe we need a moment of silence before every game to reflect on the issues of the day. But the nationalist military jingle has got to go.


  1. You’re a brilliant writer and I’m appreciative. Spot on. Again. Thanks.

  2. Even as a military veteran I find the whole ceremony super off putting, extremely disingenuous, uncalled for, and the jingoism disgusting. Last time I went to a big football game was Dallas Cowboys and a solid 30 minutes of content was ostensibly about "supporting our veterans" but it just translated into shoveling disparaging stereotypes. That's how incredibly cross-wired these ceremonies are: meant to heal racist tensions becomes a highlight of racist tensions. "Support our troops" becomes "veterans are broken people." "Celebrate our country" becomes "piss everyone off and look at how incompetent and divided we are."

  3. I am a vet and I hate those BS little Public Loyalty tests (see Catch-22 — Gimme Eat!) more than I can explain. I think I’m done standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, because I did. I don’t recite my marriage vows every time I get lucky, why should I recite the Pledge of Allegiance again and again and again, while people who never served anything but themselves puff themselves up with their faux patriotism and say BS like “Thanks for your service.” They make me sick.

    1. Well put! I make it a point of never thanking vets for their "service," and in fact do not consider anyone that has not seen action a "vet."


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