Opinion: Stop playing the national anthem at every sports event


Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, right, stands by a camera operator, left, during the national anthem before the team’s NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans in Dallas, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. Cuban decided at the beginning of the season that the Mavericks would not play the national anthem before home games, but started playing it again when backlash led to league-wide policy change. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Andrew Lang

We know the bombs were bursting in air. We know our flag was still there. We know the star-spangled banner ever yet waves. I don’t need to hear about it in the national anthem at every single sporting event I attend.

On Feb. 9, it was reported first by The Athletic that the Dallas Mavericks weren’t playing the national anthem before games. Indeed, they hadn’t played it before any of the teams first 13 games and no one had reported on it.

This led to a wave of reactions on both sides of the issue. Locally, New Orleans Pelicans Head Coach Stan Van Gundy even weighed in supporting the Mavericks’ choice.

The NBA ultimately decided teams would play the anthem and the Mavericks resumed playing it at their next home game.

“With NBA teams now in the process of welcoming fans back into their arenas, all teams will play the national anthem in keeping with our longstanding league policy,” said NBA Chief Communications Officer Mike Bass in a press release.

As someone who has worked on the Pelicans stat crew for what is now my fifth season, I have attended hundreds of NBA games. It has become clear to me that we play the anthem too much and that there is no need to play it before sporting events.

Now, I can’t make the case for not playing the anthem because of the questionable legacy of Francis Scott Key. Others are more equipped to make that case like The Undefeated did in their article “‘The Star-Spangled Banner’s’ racist lyrics reflect its slave owner author, Francis Scott Key.

I also can’t speak for the people who don’t feel the anthem represents them as Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said was part of their reason for not playing it in an interview on The Jump on ESPN. You can and should hear both those discussions out.

The case I can make is that the overuse of the anthem devalues it. I can’t remember the last time it didn’t feel like a chore for me to stand for the anthem. I know it once did not, but it sure does now. Once you’ve heard it so many times, it gets old. I’ve even gotten to the point where I’m often criticizing the singing in my head, including the third-grade school choirs that end up coming to perform.

And it isn’t just me. If you look around while it’s playing at any sporting event, you’ll find a healthy number of people doing things substantially more disrespectful to the anthem than any peaceful protest someone might be participating in. I’ve seen people remain seated, eat, whisper to someone they are still on the phone with, take pictures with their phone and plenty more.

Also, the goal of playing it is to feel national pride, but why do I need to feel pride in our nation watching the Pelicans take on the Detroit Pistons on a Wednesday night? That is not a relevant emotion to the event I am about to witness.

We are an exception, too. The United States and Canada may sing their national anthems before games, but that is not the case in Europe for soccer matches unless it involves the national teams. Does that mean they don’t celebrate their country? No, they pick and choose a more appropriate time and place.

Before anyone says that I’m not sufficiently patriotic or am un-American, I do truly love this country. However, I feel we can reduce the amount of times we play the national anthem and celebrate the country in a far more effective way.

Obviously, no one is disputing it should be played at the Olympics in a contest between nations. I also think it is well worth playing it at the events that are truly the culmination of seasons, such as the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals. Obviously, sporting events on days such as July 4 or Memorial Day should play the anthem. These are all moments where we should feel some pride in our country and our eternal quest to form a more perfect union. These are days when the anthem belongs. These are days when it might resonate with the audience and really make them feel that pride.

Where it doesn’t belong at is every single sporting event in this country, but if we keep playing it at every single game, don’t be surprised when people tune out. And then it might be all the more difficult for people to feel that pride in the country.