When I met Patrick, I was a sports agnostic. Sure I dabbled in a few of the traditions by occasionally flipping the channel to a Red Sox game, watching University of Maine hockey when they won the Frozen Four and calling in sick the day after the NCAA college basketball championship, but overall I was not a devotee.
Then I had an epiphany when Patrick exposed me to the National Football League denomination, and I became a convert, attending regular Sunday meetings raising my voice in adoration of the New England Patriots. I embraced all the rituals this entailed – gobbling a plate of nachos, sipping from a frosted beer mug, and dribbling salsa on an official NFL jersey.
I was in good company with thousands of disciples cheering in the stadium and millions watching from home as our gods performed miracles each week on the field, rising from the dead to secure five super bowl rings between 2002 and 2017.
But something is amiss in the sports arena these days. And it has to do with the first amendment to the United States Constitution that establishes the separation of church and state.
Legend has it that the first time anyone sang the Star Spangled Banner at a sporting event was at a baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox. It was 1918 and World War I was raging while some privileged white guys played it safe, running around bases scoring runs.
During the seventh inning stretch, the band played the Star Spangled Banner, and by the time the song progressed to ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave,’ players and fans were singing in unison.
The Red Sox thought it was such a hit they started opening all their games with the Star Spangled Banner and a precedent was set to kick off sporting events with the famous lyrics of Francis Scott Key.
In retrospect this was folly, as Thomas Jefferson warned when he wrote in 1802: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
I see this as a great opportunity for our wall loving President to build a structure between the Religion of Sports – which has far better attendance these days than church services – and State. Instead of a see-through wall, this would be soundproof, so no strains of The Star Spangled Banner could defile our day of rest with political controversy.
Besides the legal aspects, there is an even more compelling reason to build a wall between the Star Spangled Banner and sports convocations. Can I be the only one who has to close my eyes and plug my ears, so I don’t toss my nachos while witnessing the revulsion of a pop singer butchering this song? The only people I’ve seen nail this complicated piece of music were Renée Fleming, the opera star, and Daniel Clark, the singing trooper, executing high G’s with the grace and beauty they deserve.
What song could be an appropriate substitute while restless believers anticipate deities spilling onto the gridiron like sacrificial lambs going to slaughter? How about sports superhero Peyton Manning singing, “Nationwide is on your side?” Five words, catchy jingle, and an earworm exorcism during halftime.
That’s what I call a win-win situation.
What do you think about the NFL Star Spangled Banner dispute? Could you support my heretical idea to ban it altogether at football games?