Keep military might off the sports pitch

Out of America: You can't attend a match without a patriotic preamble – complete with soldiers and flags – that lasts nearly as long as the game

Share
Related Topics

Everyone knows that Americans love their flag and their troops. But is that reason to turn one of the most cherished dates in the domestic sporting calendar – and one that needs no embellishment – into patriotic grand opera?

Last Monday I went to the Opening Day game of the Washington Nationals. The start of the baseball season here is a symbolic rite of spring. "Wait until next year" might have been autumn's consoling thought as another losing season ends. Opening Day is next year, a moment of recharged hope, and nowhere more than in DC right now. "First in war, first in peace and last in the American League" used to be the (all too accurate) joke about Washington and baseball. This time the team is widely tipped to bring home the city's first World Series championship since 1924.

That prospect alone was surely enough to fuel Opening Day excitement. Yes, there would be a shot of patriotism in the shape of the national anthem – and as a sports fan who's lived in the US for 20-odd years, I'm used to that, even though the practice doesn't exist in most other countries for domestic sporting events. I've heard hundreds of renderings of "The Star Spangled Banner". But this non-citizen thinks each time, that's it. Now let's get on with the game. On Monday, however, the anthem wasn't even the start of the cheering for America.

Early in the pre-game ceremonies there was a performance of "America the Beautiful", one of the country's several non-official anthems (a stirring ditty indeed, as anyone who knows the Ray Charles version can testify). Then a small regiment of soldiers came on to the field carrying a colossal US flag, which covered an area the size of a soccer pitch.

As with every major league game, a dignitary throws out a ceremonial first pitch. On Monday, however, it was a soldier, an Afghan war hero and a recipient of the Medal of Honor, the American equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Understandably enough, he was cheered to the rafters.

Finally, the game itself started. During the third of the nine innings the crowd was summoned to rise in a now customary salute to wounded soldiers attending the game. Then came the "seventh-inning stretch". But even that delightful tradition no longer consists only of the crowd singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game". You are now expected first to stand for another unofficial national anthem, "God Bless America".

Somewhere along the line, the organisers of this Opening Day extravaganza forgot the stricture contained in the second verse of "America the Beautiful", to "confirm thy soul in self-control". Of patriotic self-control on Monday there was next to none. Oh, I almost forgot, the Nationals did win that afternoon. But it felt like an afterthought.

This fusion of sport, the flag and the troops is not confined to baseball. Soon after the hoopla at Nationals Park, we had "military appreciation night" at a Washington Capitals hockey game, at which the deputy chairman of the joint chiefs of staff appeared, and the Caps players did their warm-up in camouflage jerseys. As for American football, the militaristic razzmatazz fits perfectly with the game's warrior and "kick-ass" ethos – witness January's college football championship game, where the ball was delivered by a paratrooper who jumped out of a plane. All good fun, but does college sport really need a battle pageant?

In fact, Washington probably has more excuse than most for the flagwaving. Other US sports cities can beat local drums, but Washington's one distinction is that it is seat of the national government and the military high command. It can hardly celebrate Congress, while lauding a particular president would be too partisan. Which leaves the Pentagon and its non-partisan job of, as they say, "keeping America free".

The links between sport and war go back a long way. The anthem appears to have made its first appearance during the 1918 World Series, the year after the US entered the First World War. By permission of President Roosevelt, baseball kept playing through the Second World War – precisely because FDR considered it would boost spirits on the home front.

Then came 9/11. The resumption of baseball, six days after the attacks, symbolised how a traumatised country was starting to get back to normal. That was when "God Bless America" made its encroachment into the seventh-inning stretch. All of this is strange to non-Americans. Yes, play the anthem at international fixtures, but why at games involving just US-based teams, often larded with non-US players?

I'm not American, but I consider baseball to be one of the America's gifts to civilisation. I like military parades too. But keep the two apart. Attending a sports game shouldn't be akin to reciting the pledge of allegiance. I want the Nats to win the World Series. Above all, I just want to enjoy baseball.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Sussex teenager killed fighting in Syria

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Actor Zac Efron  

Keep your shirt on Zac – we'd all be better for it

Howard Jacobson
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit