Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, recently decided the national anthem would not be played at Mavericks’ home games, citing his desire to listen to voices of “those who feel that the anthem doesn’t represent them.” But to me, a Chinese immigrant, Cuban’s decision did not feel inclusive, but ignorant of what the anthem does represent.
I never went to a professional sports event when I was growing up in China. At the time, all professional teams were run by the Chinese government, and athletes were treated as state employees. Most of them began their training at a young age, as soon as their physical talents were “discovered.”
The state claimed ownership of them and their talents, stealing their childhood and forcing them to attend special government-run facilities. They trained day in and day out for the single sport that they were supposed to be very good at, with little entertainment or time to study anything else. The state provided food, shelter, and almost everything they needed, except individual freedom.
Back then, professional sports games weren’t open to the public, because entertainment was never the goal. Like art, sports and athletes existed to serve as propaganda tools of the socialist state. Winning was never about individual excellence, but about being portrayed as a win in an ideological war against the western democracies, as evidence of the superiority of socialism. How a country runs its sports and treats its athletes is a reflection of the country’s political system.
The first time I attended a professional sports game for sheer entertainment was in May 1996, a few months after I moved to the United States. My school’s international business club organized a trip to Baltimore, which included attending a Baltimore Orioles baseball game. I had never been to an outdoor stadium, not to mention a baseball game. It was a warm spring day. Bright sunlight kissed my face, feeling like a dream.
I was surprised by the giant stadium and by the size of the crowd. It seemed that the whole town stopped working when there was a baseball game on. One of my classmates, a huge Orioles fan, handed me a wrapped hotdog and bag of peanuts. “I love peanuts, hot dogs, and baseball. This is what America is about,” he proudly said.
Before the game started, the announcer asked everyone to stand for the national anthem. The crowded and noisy stadium suddenly became so quiet that I could almost hear a pin drop when a young lady walked to the center of the field and began singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
I noticed that everyone around me, regardless of their skin color or what team’s jersey they were wearing, all put their right hands over their hearts. Those who wore hats took them off, including players on the field. Many people seemed to sing along quietly until, when the singer came to “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” a big roar of whistles and claps erupted.
I didn’t understand much about baseball back then, but I was deeply touched by the American pride and patriotism around me. It was obvious to me that such pride and patriotism wasn’t coerced by the state, but a genuine expression by free people.
An American Tradition Is Born
I later learned that playing the national anthem before pro-sport games is an American tradition. The very first time “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played at a sporting event was in May 1862, during the dedication of a new baseball field in Brooklyn, New York. But no other sporting event repeated the act until 56 years later when the United States entered World War I.
On Sept. 5, 1918, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs were playing game one of the World Series. Just a day before, a Chicago Federal Building had been bombed, killing four people and injuring a dozen more. That tragic event, along with the fact that more than 100,000 American soldiers’ died during the Great War by then, weighed heavily on the minds of both players and fans in the stand. No one had any reason to be cheerful.
Then the U.S. Navy band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the seventh-inning stretch. According to the Chicago Tribune, Red Sox infielder Fred Thomas, who was granted a furlough from the Navy to play in the World Series, immediately turned toward the American flag and gave it a military salute. Other players followed suit by turning toward the flag and placing their right hands over their hearts.
The players’ action inspired the crowd. They began to sing along, and at the end of the song, then gave the most deafening applause. It became the highlight of the game. The song instilled a strong sense of patriotism in the stadium and everyone was reminded of their shared bond to each other and this nation. Since then, the song was played at the rest of the series, and each time was met with cheers and applause.
Inspired by this experience, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee made playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” a part of Red Sox home games. After World War II, NFL Commissioner Elmer Layden mandated the song to be played at every NFL game. Other sports quickly followed suit and a new American tradition was born.
Part of Something Bigger Than Ourselves
Sporting events are usually a great bonding activity for the community. Playing the national anthem before the game is an affirmation that although we may support different teams and favor different players, we shouldn’t forget our shared identity of being American, an identity that trumps our affinity for different teams and unifies us. After all, we all play on the same team, team “U.S.A.”
Playing the national anthem before a game is also a reminder that many great Americans sacrificed their lives so those of us at home can enjoy the freedom and live the lives we want. Therefore, before we sit down to have fun with our families and friends, we should first stand up, take off our hats, and place our right hands over our hearts when the national anthem is playing. This is how we pay respect to this great nation and those great men and women who paid the ultimate price for our liberty.
When a national tragedy has happened, such as September 11, playing the national anthem before sporting events became even more important because it reminds both Americans and our adversaries, in President Harry Truman’s words, that “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination, and an unbeatable determination.”
Playing the national anthem before a sporting event is a beautiful American tradition. Unfortunately, it has been under attack by the nation’s most privileged leftist class. Multi-millionaire athletes such as Colin Kaepernick choose to kneel rather than stand for the national anthem because they see the national anthem and the American flag as symbols of racial oppression. Now Cuban is following suit.
American Ideals Worth Striving For
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki expressed the Biden administration’s support for Cuban, calling the cancellation of the national anthem an acknowledgment of “America’s failures to live up to its lofty ideals.” While it is true that America hasn’t always lived up to our lofty ideals, we shouldn’t deny that these ideals are true, universal, and timeless, and the establishment of a new nation in 1776 based on these ideals was an incredible achievement in human history.
Nor should we deny that since America’s founding, generations of Americans have never given up trying to live up to and rededicate themselves and this nation to these ideals, even though sometimes it meant to sweat, tears, and blood.
One NBA team’s decision not to play the national anthem before a sporting event may not seem like a big deal, but it is one more symptom of a much bigger problem — the woke class’ relentless effort to dismantle the very foundation of this nation, from the rewriting of America’s founding with The 1619 Project to pulling down statues including of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, to the indoctrination of critical race theory in corporations, government agencies, and America’s classrooms.
They want to shame all Americans into believing that we have nothing to be proud of. Rather than making America a better place for all, these efforts have intensified division among Americans and raise the inevitable question: how long can this republic continue to hold if everything that once united us is being canceled one by one?
Fortunately, something good happened over the weekend. The Mavericks played the national anthem before a home game after the NBA commissioner sent out a memo, reminding all NBA teams to follow the league’s rule. The limited number of fans in the stadium cheered. The fans’ reaction is a rebuttal to the woke class: playing the national anthem is a beautiful tradition that we should keep.