The bombs bursting in air

Another one of those customs we’re so used to we forget to ask why they’re customs – why is it the custom to sing “the national anthem” at sporting events? It’s not a universal custom, so why is it ours?

Oh well that’s easy – because we’re vainglorious and boastful and we love violence, basically.

Back in 2011 ESPN reminded us the US “national anthem” is a war song, taunting the enemy (flag still there, nyah nyah).

That’s why, in a country that loudly lauds actions on the battlefield and the playing field, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and American athletics have a nearly indissoluble marriage. Hatched during one war, institutionalized during another, this song has become so entrenched in our sports identity that it’s almost impossible to think of one without the other.

Our nation honors war. Our nation loves sports. Our nation glorifies winning. Our national anthem strikes all three chords at the same time.

Of course, in American sports, the flag — and the anthem — is always there. At the biggest events, pregame festivities surrounding the song provide as much spectacle as the games themselves. The anthem is a show, and a show of force. Every year, the Pentagon approves several hundred requests for military flyovers (even if that means five F-18s buzzing the closed roof of Cowboys Stadium, as was the case at this year’s Super Bowl). At lesser events, even at the high school level, a color guard is often on hand with the flag as the anthem is played.

So we see sports as an arm of the military.

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