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Back to the future with Colin Kaepernick

440px-Eldridge_Cleaver_1968If only Colin Kaepernick could travel back to the future and meet Eldridge Cleaver.

Kapernick, a football player in the National Football League, has chosen to boycott the National Anthem by not standing, and not saluting—believing somehow that his action will improve the lives of black Americans. Eldridge Cleaver, a Black Panther who engaged in genuine war against the United States, might tell Kaepernick, “You are either part of the solution or part of the problem.”

Cleaver’s tortuous beliefs in Marxism and atheism led him to escape  the United States and make his way to Cuba, North Korea, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union, China, France, and Algeria, and finally, home to the U.S., as a Christian ready to embrace his country again, no matter what the cost. Cleaver recognized that while the U.S. was not perfect (and never will be),  it was a beacon to the rest of the world. He was forever grateful for finding his way home.

Eldridge Cleaver’s life was never easy, but I suspect he’d encourage Colin Kaepernick to be “part of the solution.”


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Baseball and the “Star-Spangled Banner”

baseball-team-1529403_640Baseball and the Star-Spangled Banner go way back. Back to the nineteenth century, and long before the Star-Spangled Banner became America’s National Anthem. I don’t think it is a stretch of history to suggest that the popularity of playing the Star-Spangled Banner at baseball games contributed significantly to it becoming the National Anthem.

Defense of Fort McHenry

Within days of writing the Defence of Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key’s words were printed on a broadside and distributed in Baltimore. Shortly thereafter, the words and music were published together, because Key wrote the words to fit the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” which was a popular song at the time. It wasn’t the first time that Key had composed words for the same tune.

The Star-Spangled Banner rapidly grew in popularity and was frequently played at large gatherings throughout the country, but especially before baseball games. In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered that the Star-Spangled Banner be played when the flag was raised, and by 1916, President Woodrow Wilson used an executive order making it the National Anthem. Congress eventually wrote the legislation and President Herbert Hoover signed it into law March 3, 1931.

Those events, and the long-standing tradition of playing the National Anthem at baseball games and other sporting events brings us to this question, which I received yesterday at The Daily Flag News.

We play youth baseball in a complex with 4 baseball fields, a couple football fields and at least one soccer field. Are players and others present required to respond to each fields’ playing of the National Anthem with different starting times?

Unforeseen circumstances

Those who wrote the National Anthem Code could not have foreseen a circumstance such as this. The Code does not tell us when, or where, or how to perform the National Anthem, only how to behave during the Anthem. Figuring out the logical, appropriate etiquette for various situations turns into a flow chart of sorts, and after ten years reading and writing about the protocol, I am confident in my response.

This answer will somewhat contradict other posts I have written in the past, but that’s because it is a situation that cannot be summed up in a neat paragraph. Here is what I recommend:

Thus if you have observed the protocol and etiquette for your immediate circumstance (your game): you have stood at attention, saluted as appropriate to who you are, listened to and/or sung the National Anthem—then you have met the honor, and obligation attendant to your game.  It is not necessary for you to stop your game when a new game and Anthem begins on another field within your hearing.

In baseball (in general) any player, coach or manager can ask for a time out, but only the umpire can grant time out. By the time the umpire could call time out, the Anthem—which runs for about 70 seconds—would be over, and for players to just stop playing without a time out could be dangerous and chaotic. It’s the sort of problem that must give coaches and umpires a headache and heartburn, too.

Have a meeting

Because this situation must be a recurring problem, I suggest that the various organizations, plus umpires and referees that meet and play on these game fields have a meeting to establish a standard protocol and etiquette for observing the National Anthem on these fields. It would would simplify things so much, and insure that each game was conducted properly, and that honors to the National Anthem were properly given.

What they call a teachable moment

This is an amazing opportunity to teach young people about the history of the Star-Spangled Banner, why we honor the flag by standing and saluting, and how it ties into the history of baseball. Without baseball, it might have taken a lot longer for the Star-Spangled Banner to become our National Anthem.











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Are performers of the National Anthem required to salute?

Are performers of the National Anthem required to salute? Those in attendance when the National Anthem is performed are asked to stand at attention and salute as appropriate, with a military salute or a heart salute [hand over the heart]. However, by tradition—performers of the National Anthem are given some latitude in saluting.

Here is a recent comment to The Daily Flag, left on a post dated February 13, 2007, about the protocol for the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. The person wrote:

Here is a copy of the “official code” from April 1942. It seems to be an official document.

It does not say the hand needs to be over the heart during the singing. Of course, this may have been changed. All I know is that when my choir sang at a MLB game recently we were told we did not have to place our hands over our hearts. I see very few soloists do this.

The linked document was the result of the National Anthem Committee (of 1942) with representatives of the Music Educators National Conference, members of the War Department, music publishers, and others interested the protocol of the performance and a standardized version of the music.

portion of Key's SSB manuscriptThe United States was a country at war, and those charged with teaching and performing the National Anthem—school teachers, band and orchestra directors, professional musicians and vocalists, et cetera—were seeking codified guidelines. The National Anthem Committee of 1942 provided that.

I wish the document had a different title, because is not legislated law (i.e. “U.S. Code”). Nevertheless, the results of the committee meeting determined how musicians and vocalists have performed the National Anthem ever since.

In summary, those who are performing the National Anthem are not required to salute. Certainly bands and orchestras may stand as so desired, but they do not have to. Individual musicians (who may or may not be standing) and vocalists (who are normally standing) are exempt from saluting during their performances.

It is not mentioned in this document, but it has become a custom for the “conductors” of bands, orchestras, choirs, chorus, et cetera  stand at attention and face the flag (if possible), and render the appropriate salute on behalf of the entire musical ensemble. It is a lovely gesture, and I am always pleased to witness this act of honor.

What does this mean for those of us who are not the “performers,” but are singing the National Anthem anyway. It means we are still supposed to stand at attention, salute, and sing. There is a delicate thread of tension between what is codified law (since 1931), and a practice that exists by tradition but without legislative backing.

Congress has made it very plain that it has no desire or intention to regulate the performance of the National Anthem, even though the committee made specific recommendations about the music. We are at liberty to perform as we wish. This freedom occasionally results in some disastrous renditions, but the court of American approval is swift. Make hash of the Star-Spangled Banner and the public will never let you forget it.

I generally dislike solo performances of the National Anthem, and it places a terrible, unnecessary burden upon the performer to be perfect, especially since these command performances are generally sung acapella. Moreover, I want to sing too, and rarely do soloists offer a sing-along version of the Star-Spangled Banner.

It is my fondest hope that one day, a musical performer of incandescent talent and international fame will walk out to the middle of a sporting field and say to the stands filled with fans, “Will you all rise, and join me in singing the National Anthem,” and then conduct the song for the crowd. Never is the National Anthem more beautiful than when we are all singing together.