This is not a football post.
Well, it could be, I do enjoy watching College football on TV, I have a favorite team, and there are a few that become my favorite team when they play Michigan.
But, that’s not what this is about.
This is about the National Anthem flap started by a professional football player that’s getting so much attention.
Seems he’s protesting by sitting and kneeling during the anthem rather than standing, which is the traditionally acceptable thing to do when the Anthem is played.
Note, I said traditionally acceptable, not required.
As an erstwhile but former singer who has actually performed the Anthem publicly, I can say the US National Anthem, or The Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key is one of the most difficult songs to sing.
It’s a pain.
It takes a truly gifted singer with a great range to do it justice, and in my experience, there have been few.
I am quite sure I was NOT one who did.
But again, I digress.
In September of 1814, while Washington was smoldering and Alexandria was in British hands, President James Madison sent Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner flying a flag of truce on a prisoner exchange mission. Seems an elderly and well loved doctor had been taken prisoner by the Brits.
Key and Skinner dined with British General Robert Ross and others. During dinner, a battle plan for an attack on Baltimore was discussed and after first refusing to do so, Ross agreed to release the kindly old doctor as well as the US diplomats, but not until after the battle.
Couldn’t have Key dashing back to Madison with the battle plans, now could we?
Key and Skinner spent the evening aboard the Surprise a British warship.
During the night, the diplomats watched the bombardment of Fort Henry observing that the small storm flag was still flying, but could not see the American Flag until the break of day.
On September 14, the storm flag was lowered and the larger American standard was hoisted.
Key, inspired by the American victory wrote the Star Spangled Banner as a poem while still aboard the British ship. On September 16, he and Skinner were released. Key then completed the poem and called it The Defense of Fort Henry.
OK, so that’s not catchy at all.
Key gave a copy of the poem to his brother-in-law, Judge Joseph H. Nicholson. Nicholson felt the words fit the music to a song in use by a gentlemen’s club of amateur musicians and took the poem to a printer, who made a copy. A few days later, newspapers The Baltimore Patriot and The American published the ditty.
It caught on.
Papers from New Hampshire to Georgia printed it, and a music store in Baltimore published the words under the title The Star Spangled Banner.
By October, it was being performed publicly.
Over the next 100 years, there were several versions which apparently annoyed “Mr. Picky”, President Woodrow Wilson who charged the Bureau of Education to come UP with an official version.
Key was dead, copyright was – meh, stuff happens.
The BOE went one step further and hired a couple of musicians to write an arrangement.
Walter Damrosch, Will Earnhart, Arnold J. Gantvoort, Oscar Sonneck, and John Philip Sousa voted on a standard – I am not making this UP – and it was premiered at Carnegie Hall in December of 1917 during a concert staged by the Oratorio Society of New York.
Prior to that, all through the 1800s, the song picked UP speed, became popular, and was the accepted number used to open political events, national meetings, Independence Day Celebrations, and the like.
But it wasn’t the “national anthem.”
In 1889, Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Tracy signed General Order #374 making “The Star Spangled Banner” the official tune played when the American Flag was raised.
Still not the “national anthem.”
In 1916, Woodrow Wilson ordered that it be played at military and other appropriate occasions – there was no clear definition of “appropriate occasions.”
In 1918, it was played during the 7th inning stretch of first game of the World Series.
I guess the chicken dance hadn’t come along yet.
Hmmm., I’ll have to research that!
In April of 1918, John Charles Linthicum, a Democrat and a US Congressman from Maryland introduced a bill to officially make it the “national anthem.”
The bill failed.
Still not the “national anthem.”
Apparently taking the “little engine that could” philosophy to heart, the undaunted Congressman introduced the bill six more times, the last being in 1929, with no success.
In 1930, the VFW started petitioning the government to officially recognize “TSSB” as the national anthem. Five million people signed the petition in less than a month.
Congressman Linthicum wanted to know where these people had been for the last decade!
On January 31, 1930, the petition was presented to the House Committee on the Judiciary while Elsie Jorss-Reilley and Grace Evelyn Boudin sang it!
They were trying to refute the “theory” that it was too high pitched for a typical person to sing.
They were wrong, just sayin’.
The committee sent a bill to the House for a vote, the House passed it, and President Herbert Hoover signed it into “law” on March 4, 1931.
Having died in 1843, Francis Scott Key was not available for comment.
The bill contained no restrictions on behavior during its performance.
Lean to the left, lean to the right, STAND UP, sit down, it doesn’t say which.
BUT, people stood, some placed their hands over their hearts, and men removed their hats.
It was a sign of respect, not for the song, but for the nation and the national pride it represents.
Now, spoiled millionaires everywhere are choosing a semi-sacred score to protest actions and behaviors occurring in our often troubled nation.
Protesting is protected by the Constitution, a right I’m glad we have.
But, as we’ve heard so much this summer, words and actions have consequences.
Quite frankly, the national anthem isn’t the culprit we can blame for a nation’s woes.
Greed, mismanagement, lack of compassion, lack of national pride, and corruption are the things we should protest.
The national anthem’s words are not the culprit. I seriously doubt that half the country knew there was more than one verse to the song. There are at least 5 including the one added during the Civil War by Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Many people can’t get the first verse right when singing along with the rest of the fans at an NFL game or a NASCAR race or a Baseball stadium.
And often times, people behave disrespectfully by cheering loudly during the song.
Knowing it, singing, it standing for it: none are required by law.
So, what is traditionally acceptable behavior?
Well, from what I can tell, and what I’ve done all my life, everyone present, except those in uniform are to stand at attention facing the Flag (if it is there) with their right hand placed over their heart. Those not in uniform should remove their hats; hold them at their left shoulder with their hand over their heart. Those in uniform should give the military salute at the beginning of the anthem and hold it until the last note sounds.
Even these behaviors and standards are disputed – some say you stand at attention but don’t cover your heart – and any ‘standard’ would be unofficial – there is no law.
The key term is acceptable behavior.
What does society expect?
They expect everyone with the freedom to sit during the national anthem to stand to show their appreciation for the fact that it’s not required.
They expect everyone with the freedom to protest to do so in a manner that brings light to the wrongs, attention to those in need, and makes already glaring injustices more visible.
They expect everyone with the freedom to act, to act in a positive and productive manner.
Well, at least that’s what I expect.
The words to the National Anthem are provided below.
O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
This is the Oliver Wendell Holmes addition.
When our land is illumined with Liberty’s smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained who our birthright have gained,
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.