I stood quietly by my seat at Nationals ballpark in Washington, DC for last nights All-Star Game. 50,000 other fans joined me and the National League and American League All-Stars lined the field in front of their respective dugouts. Hats off and over hearts as the vocalist's notes thundered through the humid summer night air and lingered over the event. The crowd and players all turned to face the closest American Flag they could find.
The inning was the 7th.
The song was God Bless America.
This is a thought that I have not been able to shake for some time now. Today's national sports world, the NFL in particular, is caught in a dynamic struggle and polarizing debate as to how to handle those who do not stand for the National Anthem. It has turned fans off from some sports and it has reached every corner of the country and permeated our airwaves and politics.
Yet go to any major event in the MLB right now, like the All-Star game, and you'll see a strange phenomenon. Not only does the audience stand and salute the flag for the National Anthem, they do it a SECOND time for a song that has no claim to importance in our country of any kind and is dripping with religious overtones: God Bless America.
The song is beautiful, it is stirring and it inspires pride. But it also evokes an almost Pavlovian response from players, umpires, and fans who strain to find the flag and put their hat over their heart when the song commences.
This is not the National Anthem and there are no requirements about this song (though announcers will ask that you "rise"). But in a time where sections of our national sports world seems to be ripping itself apart at the seams over how to handle the National Anthem, the MLB has not only evaded the issue but also quietly continues to add displays of respect for the flag.
By no means is this to say that the MLB and their fans are wrong to embrace this "second anthem" the way they have, nor is it to say that those sports dealing with the struggle over how to handle the National Anthem should be taking cues from the MLB. Each sport and their fan bases must chart their own courses, but I am struck and somewhat awed by the contrast of the two dynamics.
Somewhere, someone has to be asking the question about what exactly goes into the psychology of the American sports populous that we could be expending so much time, energy, rhetoric, and vitriol into a debate over the National Anthem in one sport while doubling down on that patriotic display with no seeming notice in another. To a country where this is possible, really only one thing can be said...
God bless America.