It wasn't planned for our national lawmakers to sing the United States' anthem that day. It never is.
Sports, however, have and continue to ritualize it with barely a shred of relevance.
It was, no doubt, Christina Aguilera's fault that she flubbed the National Anthem's lyrics at the Super Bowl on Sunday. But if our lawmakers don't sing it every day to begin the country's business, spectators of a mere sporting event shouldn't be forced to sit through it, either, especially during the time we are living through right now.
There are, after all, a lot of people out there who argue that they don't want politics to have anything to do with sports. They accuse coaches, athletes and media of disrespecting service men and women in battle by using war metaphors to describe how touchdowns are scored, come-from-behind victories are achieved and adversity is fought through to win a game.
Yet, those same people don't see a contradiction at rising to their feet at every sporting event to mouth (a 2004 Harris Interactive poll showed most U.S. citizens don't know the National Anthem's lyrics) words that came to Francis Scott Key as he watched U.S. soldiers at Baltimore's Fort McHenry raise a huge American flag to celebrate surviving bombardment from British forces during the War of 1812. Instead, they hoot and holler, sometimes with an American banner turned into a bandana on their heads, when military jets swoop overhead as the color guard prepares to relinquish the field of play to the opposing sports teams.
That is sports framed by the politics of militarism that has nothing to do with football, baseball or a NASCAR race.
Indeed, "The Star-Spangled Banner" first became an official Navy song. The Baseball Hall of Fame notes it was played before a game during the Civil War and again before a few games of the 1917 and 1918 World Series in the midst of World War I. When World War II interrupted the careers of upwards of 700 ballplayers, who put down their bats and picked up rifles, the anthem became baseball and sports tradition.
"O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,"' a phrase from the National Anthem, has absolutely nothing to do with sports but everything to do with war. But we want those who play, coach and comment on sports to be sensitive at a time like this when nearly 6,000 U.S. men and women have been killed fighting wars in Iraq, where the last U.S. troops aren't scheduled to be withdrawn until this year's end, and in Afghanistan, where any withdrawal of U.S. troops isn't scheduled to begin until this coming summer.
Whether "The Star-Spangled Banner" is played doesn't have anything to do with patriotism, either. If the sports world wants performance patriotism -- although movie theaters, concert halls, Wal-Mart and other places where tens of thousands assemble don't – it has choices. There are several tunes in the national songbook that could be chosen that are patriotic and, quite frankly, better than the stilted difficult to sing Anthem, both lyrically and rhythmically. They also don't necessarily evoke politics and militarism so many have professed to find objectionable in their sports.
There is "America the Beautiful" that most-memorably was performed by the late Ray Charles prior to the kickoff of Super Bowl XXXV, which was the last Super Bowl played before 9/11. From time to time, it's been mentioned as a replacement for the current National Anthem.
There is Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" that was made famous by Kate Smith and popularized in sports at Philadelphia Flyers' home games where their singer Lauren Hart sings it with a video of Smith on the jumbo screen. On the evening of 9/11, House members broke out with a spontaneous rendition of "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol. In a lot of baseball parks since then, it's replaced "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" as the traditional seventh-inning stretch song.
There is also the now-forgotten "Ballad for Americans" popularized during World War II by All-American football player-turned-actor-turned-singer-turned-orator Paul Robeson. There was no more popular national song then. Even Bing Crosby made a hit recording of it. But no one sang it like Robeson, a classically trained baritone who spoke his brilliant mind and, when he performed "Ballad for Americans" at The Hollywood Bowl, attracted the bowl's largest sold-out crowd ever.
Truth is, so-called or codified national patriotic songs like "The Star-Spangled Banner" on the sports menu aren't about patriotism as much as they are about commercialism and public relations. "The Banner" in particular has become a custom in all sports for no reason other than someone made it custom, most notably President Wilson who during World War I ordered it played at all military events. Next thing anyone knew, it was at every sporting event, too.
As a result, our games have allowed all manner of professional vocalists and average citizens -- and even comedians like Roseanne Barr and wannabe entertainers in athletics like Carl Lewis -- to infamously exercise their talents, or lack of them, and make a mockery of the National Anthem. Then, of course, there are the fans in certain locales, like Dallas, who degrade the song in their home arenas by shouting out a word or phrase that conjures their favorite team. In Dallas, it's the word "stars" at Dallas Stars' hockey games.
Interestingly, the few people who elevate the National Anthem to any relevance in sports are those who've gotten into trouble for understanding and respecting its imagery enough to employ it as backdrop for protest against war and oppression. A small college women's basketball player, Toni Smith, was ridiculed for doing so a few years ago, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos were blackballed for famously demonstrating with the anthem at the '68 Olympics.
Otherwise, "The Banner" has had no real reason in sports, unless you account for it being based on an old English song about boozing, which, of course, is another mindless ritual of the games we watch.