We Expect The National Anthem At Sporting Events. But What Are The Roots Of That Tradition?

There’s been a lot of hubbub over the anthem since news broke that the Dallas Mavericks hadn’t been playing it.

By Michael MarksFebruary 16, 2021 1:31 pm, , ,

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban caused a stir last week when he told the sports news website The Athletic that the team hadn’t played the national anthem before home games this season.

Cuban told ESPN the team decided not to play the anthem after hearing from members of the community that the song “did not fully represent them.” After news broke that the anthem wasn’t being played, the NBA quickly instructed all of its teams to play the song before each game, which the Mavericks have done.

Still, Cuban’s move catalyzed action by elected officials. Last week, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick filed the “Star Spangled Banner Act,” which would require that the anthem be played before any event that receives public funding.

“It is hard to believe this could happen in Texas, but Mark Cuban’s actions of yesterday made it clear that we must specify that in Texas we play the national anthem before all major events,” Patrick said in a press release about the bill.

But why is the national anthem such a staple of the American sports scene? Sheryl Kaskowitz, an American music writer and researcher, says it goes back to World War I and America’s pastime: baseball.

During the 1918 World Series featuring the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, a band in the Chicago bleachers spontaneously played “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a wartime show of patriotic pride.

“Then, when the series moved back to Boston, the song was performed at a ceremony before each game,” Kaskowitz told the Texas Standard.

But the tradition didn’t fully take root until after World War II. At the time, it was normal for the song to be played before public gatherings, like movies and parades. So sporting events became a natural fit for the song. Kaskowitz says that Americans took inspiration from Canada: during the war, the country’s national anthem was played before hockey games. Ever since then, it became a tradition.

“The ritual, once it’s sort of in place, is very difficult to remove,” Kaskowitz said. “It would be hard to step away and say ‘OK, we’re not feeling patriotic anymore.’”

Although the Mavericks have started playing the anthem again, Patrick’s bill may keep the debate alive. And legislation to regulate such a symbol is rare.

“I think that lawmakers have generally been more tentative in thinking about how to regulate the use of the anthem than a physical symbol like the flag,” Kaskowitz said.

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