Thursday, March 20, 2008

The way it should be

Let's get one thing out of the way, right up front.

I'm a life-long fan of Ohio State football.

I attended my first game in The 'Shoe in 1962, watching the wizardry of a young halfback named Paul Warfield. A personally autographed photo of Woody Hayes has adorned my wall everywhere I've lived over the last thirty-nine years. If you cut me, I bleed Scarlet and Gray.

But this isn't about football.

In October of 2001, I stood in section 8A of Ohio Stadium with a friend, an officer in the Ohio Air National Guard. We cheered the pre-game tradition of The Ohio State University Marching Band. Then, as the snares rolled, we proudly began to sing our national anthem.

The Stars and Stripes sailed briskly skyward. One-hundred-six-thousand voices were raised.

And twice as many eyes wept.

It was the first home game after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

In that moment, in my fortieth year of tracing that autumn ritual, I saw a familiar stadium tradition as something much more.

Virtually every big-time sporting event is preceded by the Star-Spangled Banner, of course. Often it's a performance by some recording artist who's promoting a new album or an upcoming tour.

That's just wrong.

The national anthem is our national anthem -- it should be joined and sung by The People, not performed for The People. The People should celebrate -- insist on celebrating -- the privilege of honoring our freedom in unison.

On that October day, I shared these thoughts with my game-day companion. She smiled and said, "That wasn't just our national anthem. It was common prayer."


To every high school, college, sports franchise and racing organization that respects The People and our national anthem: Thank you.

That's the way it should be.