‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ tradition’s long history in sports

on Feb10
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For as long as anyone can remember, the national anthem has been played before pro sports games and even some high school games.

The long-standing tradition has come into question in recent months in the wake of protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Team owner Mark Cuban decided to ax the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” altogether before Dallas Mavericks games before the start of the season.

But the reasoning for playing the national anthem in the first place usually gets lost in the mix.


Mark Clague, an expert on the national anthem, told NPR in 2018 the anthem was first played before a sporting event in May 1862 in Brooklyn, N.Y. The song meshed with the dedication of a new baseball field in the New York City borough, he said.

“They hire a band because it’s a big celebration,” he told NPR. “When you have live music in 1862, during the Civil War, you’re going to play patriotic songs. So they play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ sort of coincidentally. It’s not part of a ritual; [it’s] not played to start the game.”

The anthem was played again during the 1918 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. It was played at a time when the U.S., MLB and the city of Chicago were going through hard times all at the same time. World War I put a strain on the U.S. and as a result baseball as a whole. The Chicago Federal Building was also bombed the day before Game 1 of the World Series, according to ESPN.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was played during the seventh inning of the game. Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas, who was on furlough from the Navy at the time, stood at attention when the song was played and faced the flag, according to ESPN. Other players and fans followed suit. Fans sang the song in unison, which turned out to be the highlight of the day.


The song would be played for the next games, with the Red Sox moving the song to the pregame. It was noted that the tradition became engrained in baseball before Congress adopted it as the official national anthem in 1931.

The singing of the national anthem before games is still something to be watched. Each Super Bowl has had a national anthem singer and even the Canadian national anthem is played before some NBA and NHL games.

The MLS didn’t play the national anthem before games when it initially returned from its pandemic pause because fans weren’t in the stands.

WNBA star Brittany Griner questioned in the summer why the anthem is being played anyway.

“I honestly feel we should not play the national anthem during our season,” Griner, a six-time WNBA All-Star and the 2019 runner-up MVP, told reporters during a video conference call, according to the Arizona Republic in July. “I think we should take that much of a stand.


“I don’t mean that in any disrespect to our country. My dad was in Vietnam and a law officer for 30 years. I wanted to be a cop before basketball. I do have pride for my country.”

It has yet to be seen if the Mavericks’ experiment will trickle down to all major sports.

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