Fay Vincent: A National Anthem Answer for Jon Stewart

From a Wall Street Journal commentary by Fay Vincent headlined “A National Anthem Answer for Jon Stewart”:

The other day Jon Stewart questioned why fans at sports events stand for the national anthem. “Does anyone know when that started?” he asked. “It’s such a weird ritual.“

The custom has its roots in the 1918 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. There was reduced interest in baseball, so the Cubs were interested in tying the opening game to wartime patriotism. Accordingly, during the seventh-inning stretch, a band began to play the national anthem.

Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas, who was on a brief furlough from the Navy, immediately snapped to attention and saluted. The crowd noticed and began to stand and sing. When the band finished, there was an enthusiastic roar, and the Cubs management was quick to realize what had happened. When the series moved to Boston, the Red Sox also had the anthem played, and thus tied the knot between the national pastime and patriotic emotions. In time, the anthem was moved to the start of games, and the live band has given way to some lovely and some cacophonous performances.

One reason the tradition has lasted is that most of us find rituals to be rich and rewarding. My father always stood when a woman entered the room, and his Victorian manners and respect have led me to believe in the symbolism of the standing gesture.

Patriotism isn’t a political policy; a government isn’t a nation. Is it possible Mr. Stewart is ignoring the essence of solid citizenship by confusing patriotic gestures and symbols with political messages?

Standing is a luxury I no longer have. But to honor my country, I doff my cap and sit quietly in my wheelchair while thinking of those who made this into the noblest of nations, in which Mr. Stewart is free to ask his irreverent question.

Mr. Vincent was commissioner of baseball, 1989-92.

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