On legally mandating the anthem before the games

If ten Texas state senators and its lieutenant governor have their way, it’ll be Texas law to play “The Star Spangled Banner” before all games in the Lone Star State including at the Houston Astros’ home.

Among many things, in his farewell address this nation’s first president hoped his thoughts and suggestions would move his countrymanpersons “to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.” The Father of His Country might have had legislating as well as posturing patriotism in mind. Even though Texas wasn’t even a gleam in the new nation’s eye just yet.

A tentet of Texas state senators wants “The Star Spangled Banner” as required playing, listening, and posturing before every sports contest hosted in the Lone Star State—preseason, regular season, and postseason. For openers. As reported by Reason‘s deputy managing editor, Jason Russell, the tentet would like to tell one and all playing games in the state, “or else!”

Or else, among other things, no government entity state or local can make deals “that require a financial commitment” with any sports team “unless the agreement includes written verification the team will play the anthem before all games,” Russell writes. “If a team fails to comply, it would be in default of the agreement.”

Apparently, the Texas Ten took their cue from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is no known relation to the longtime ESPN SportsCenter anchor now hosting his own show on Premiere Radio Networks. In February, Patrick was not amused to learn the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks weren’t playing “The Star Spangled Banner” before their pre- and regular-season home games.

It’s not that anybody noticed until the final such game, because thanks to the pan-damn-ic there were no fans present until that final game. Then the NBA decided, not so fast, it’s time to re-enforce the league’s rule that the national anthem will be played before all NBA games, whether or not the Mavericks or their owner Mark Cuban likes it.

What has this to do with baseball? Well, two American League teams hail from Texas. So do four minor league teams even under the dubious new minor league realignment. If Patrick and the Texas Ten get their way, they’ll be spanked, too.

Russell observes that if the bill passes and is signed into law, major sports teams that let teams dispense with “The Star Spangled Banner” would find such decisions “affect[ing] stadium subsidies, any kind of government-funded tourism sponsorship, and possibly even arrangements where local law enforcement provides security.” The good news: the bill isn’t likely to cut the mustard in the courts, possibly all the way to the Supreme Court.

It’s one thing for the NBA or the NFL (which has mandated it since after World War II) as essentially private organisations to require it. It’s something else entirely for any government at any level to do so.”This legislation already enjoys broad support,” Patrick harrumphed last month. “I am certain it will pass, and the Star Spangled Banner will not be threatened in the Lone Star State again.” (He meant the flag as well as the song.)

Threatened?

“Patrick’s proposal that the Texas Legislature pass a state law requiring the national anthem be played represents state action,” writes attorney and journalism professor Amy Kristin Sanders in an e-mail to the Website of televisions Law & Crime. “As a part of its speech protections, the First Amendment also bars state actors from compelling others to speakā€”and requiring someone to play the national anthem is just that.”

We can surmise with little fear of contradiction that that isn’t exactly what an ancient Red Sox third baseman named Fred Thomas had in mind during the 1918 World Series.

On leave from the Navy to play in the Series, with the Navy’s full blessing, Thomas heard a Navy band (it was common in those times for military bands to provide music at sports events) strike up “The Star Spangled Banner” during the seventh-inning stretch and saluted spontaneously, as he might have been expected as a Navy man himself.

Thomas’s salute prompted other players in both dugouts (the Red Sox played and would beat the Cubs in that Series) to stand and salute, not to mention the already-standing crowd to salute likewise. This, by the way, was thirteen years before “The Star Spangled Banner” became America’s official national anthem.

Red Sox owner Harry Frazee decided that for the rest of that Series two things would happen: 1) For all games played in Fenway Park wounded war veterans would have free admission. 2) “The Star Spangled Banner” would be played in their honour before the start of those games. As with Thomas’s spontaneous salute, Frazee’s gesture did not come to him at the wrong end of a gun, actual or rhetorical.

It inspired other sports teams and leagues to do likewise, gradually, and entirely on their own, in the years to follow before and after the anthem became official. Baseball has never had a formal rule mandating either “The Star Spangled Banner” or “God Bless America” (which became an unofficial but consistent tradition in the wake of the 9/11 atrocity), but neither has it rejected the tradition of it.

When kneeling protests emerged a few years ago among black athletes spearheaded by long-former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick over rogue police brutality against black suspects, the passions both ways soared like a grand slam. They still do when the anthem issue arises, with or without the kneeling protests, as with Cuban and the Mavericks.

And you can’t always interject that kneeling is as much a gesture of respect and genuflection as it might be a gesture of protest. Even if you argue that kneeling protesters might appeal as much to a higher authority as against a particularly abusive temporal one. Even if you agree without taking a knee that there should be no place for rogue police in any diligent such department.

I’ve gone on record about it before, but Patrick’s harrumph compels it one more time: Is it absolutely necessary to sound “The Star Spangled Banner” before every damn last sports contest played all year long? If we believe patriotism must originate and remain in the heart, doesn’t the day-in, day-out pre-game playing erode rather than enhance the patriotic impetus by making it formal obligation instead of free and organic?

My past thoughts haven’t changed. I have no wish to eliminate the National Anthem from sporting events entirely. I also have no wish that Patrick and the Texas Ten should prevail and inspire other states to likewise. I remain in agreement with National Review senior editor Jay Nordlinger, who wrote almost three years ago, “I’m not sure that patriotism is compatible with compulsion,” to which George Washington himself might have answered with a resounding if quiet “it isn’t.”

And, I remain convinced that, on behalf of removing only too much of the compulsory factor from an impetus that must come purely from the heart and soul, playing “The Star Spangled Banner” ought to be limited to the following sports events:

* Opening Day for major sports leagues’ regular seasons or, in the case of non-team sports, major tournaments. (The U.S. Open in tennis and golf; the Masters’ tournament; the PGA Championship; etc.)

* Any games played on major national holidays. (Since I’m a baseball writer, let’s start from there: Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, Labour Day. Also, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday, Presidents Day.)

* All-Star Games in major sports leagues.

* The Super Bowl.

* Game One of each major sports league’s final round: the World Series (first things first!) NBA Championship, the WNBA Championship, the Stanley Cup Final (if Game One begins in the American team’s arena).

* Game Seven of such championship rounds, if they go that far.

And, in the immortal words of Porky Pig, eba-dee, eba-dee, eba-dee, eba-that’s all, folks.

I won’t expect the commissioners or governing bodies of major sports to stop and ponder, never mind enact the foregoing. They’re many things, but bold isn’t necessarily among them. Not the sort of bold that enhances and advances their games, anyway.

The eyes of the nation should be upon Texas, if only to see that the way to patriotic wisdom is more often than we think to travel the road assuredly not taken. Certainly not by the Lone Star State’s second in command plus ten lawmakers unaware that they wish to make dubious and unconstitutional law.

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