Most of us understand the unique blessing of living in a country that is a political democracy with a high standard of living. We also know that we owe that freedom to brave soldiers who have risked or given their lives to defend our country and way of life. The protest of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has brought renewed attention to the ceremonial honoring of the country. How did the playing of the national anthem become associated with sporting events? Does it truly enhance our sense of unity and patriotism and honor our soldiers to play it before every collegiate and professional game of football, baseball, basketball, hockey and other sports -- or should it be saved for special national events?
"The Star-Spangled Banner" was performed as early as 1897 during opening-day ceremonies for baseball in Philadelphia and then more regularly at the Polo Grounds in New York City in 1898. It later was played during the seventh-inning stretch of the 1918 World Series. World War II saw a whole country at home supporting troops overseas and the tradition of playing it before baseball games became widespread.
The anthem is now performed before the beginning of all MLS, NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL games (with at least one American team involved), as well as in a pre-race ceremony portion of every NASCAR race. There are some who believe that the anthem has become oversaturated and the patriotic effect is often lost in the repetition.
They note that many fans are drinking, talking and not focusing on the words or importance of the song itself. In the 1950s the general manager of the Baltimore Orioles decided that playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before every game cheapened its impact and that the team would only play it on special occasions. The Chicago Cubs owner felt the same way and only resurrected the every-game playing of the anthem in the 1960s when the country was fighting in Vietnam. In the 1960s the Chicago White Sox experimented with honoring the country with a less conflict-oriented song "God Bless America."
At events like the Olympics or other international sporting events involving multiple countries, there is widespread acceptance of playing the anthem at awards ceremonies. American athletes, like four of the five women on the Olympic gold-medal gymnastics team, often tear up with the playing of the anthem, and it is a special moment.
Every loyal American understands the uniqueness of our country and what it stands for and how critical it is to support our current troops and past veterans. Saving the national anthem for special events like a Presidential Inauguration, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day might preserve its special place in our country and get people to focus on the words and what they represent.
If the flag is flying and the anthem is playing, I will always stand for it and honor it. This is not an article intended to diminish the sacredness of the flag, and military but to evaluate the best way to honor it.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.