Anthem Removal Hits Wrong Note

By Jason Menard

Since the recent ugly situation in San Jose, there has been plenty of talk about stopping the practice of playing the national anthem before the start of hockey games. And if leagues start singing that song, forgive fans for thinking that they’ve hit a wrong note.

While there are so many reasons why the anthems should go, there are two big reasons why they should stay: pride and respect.

A national anthem is more than an advertising jingle for a country – it’s a shared experience around which an entire nation can rally, raising their voices in unison to proclaim their pride for their nation. It is but one brief moment in our lives when we can stand up and wear our hearts on our sleeve.

And, unfortunately, it’s an opportunity that we don’t get often enough. Unless you’re an insomniac or a shift worker, chances are you’re not awake when stations sign on with the playing of the national anthem. Most of us are out of public school, so we don’t have to go through the ritual. In fact, except for attendance at sporting events, I can literally go months without hearing the anthem.

Is that right? While being a proud Canadian doesn’t mean you have to engage in a sing-along, it certainly doesn’t hurt. There are few things more moving than hearing thousands of voices rising in unison as O Canada builds to its climax. In fact, one of the most stirring experiences I ever had was standing in Olympic Stadium before a Montreal Expos’ home opener, right during the time when Separatism was regaining momentum, and listening as a few boos were drowned out by tens of thousands of Canadians proclaiming their love for this nation through song.

Donny Osmond had it right when he sang that a few bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch. Whether it’s the knuckleheads in San Jose who chose disrespecting a nation’s anthem as the best venue for expressing their dislike of the opposing team, or it’s the egomaniacal few at junior hockey games whose ego can only be stroked by shouting “Go Team Go,” in the final few moments of quiet during the song, the good outweighs the bad.

The problem isn’t the anthem; it’s that we’ve grown up without a healthy respect for what the song stands for. I grew up thinking that the playing of the anthem was almost sacred and the manner in which you comported yourself during its playing was reflective of how you felt about the country. And every time it’s played I will stand in respectful silence, mouthing or singing the words depending on the venue. However, especially at sporting events, you will see people talking through the anthems, moving, shouting, wearing hats, or performing any manner of disrespectful acts during its playing.

But the problem isn’t with me, it’s with them. And it’s for that reason that sporting leagues shouldn’t stop the practice of playing with the anthem. We need time to pay more respect, not less.

How we react to foreign anthems says a lot about us as Canadians. If we boo, we’re not disrespecting a politician or a policy that we may not like – we’re disrespecting a people as a whole. We’re disrespecting a diverse group of individuals who may or may not share many of the same beliefs, values, and dreams that we do. But by standing in respectful silence, we show our compassion, our kinship, and our respect for our fellow man.

There is an argument that states that in league competitions, where teams are representing cities, not countries, that it’s inappropriate to play the anthem. That’s a short-sighted view. Sporting events, where competition and passions are high, are the perfect venue for this type of national fervor to be displayed. Respectful silence or singing along followed by a heart-felt cheer is not just a sign of fidelity to our country, but also a bonding experience with our fellow countrymen.

The chances that we have to show our national pride are already few and far between. Pandering to the lowest common denominator in our society and removing this practice due to the actions of a classless few is an insult to the majority of Canadians – and Americans – who are able to combine national pride with international courtesy.

Is it so bad that, for just a couple of minutes of our lives, we’re allowed to reflect on who and what we are as a people? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had more, not fewer, opportunities to express our pride?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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