Is a Bad National Anthem Better Than No National Anthem?

Is a Bad National Anthem Better Than No National Anthem?


Is a Bad National Anthem Better Than No National Anthem?


In May 2016, I wrote a column suggesting that we, as a country, scale back the playing of our national anthem before each and every sporting event. A majority of feedback predictably suggested I was un-American for even broaching the topic. Looking back, though, the level of vitriol was far below the weapons-grade venom I’d expect to receive if the same post ran today.

Who knew we were living in the halcyon, carefree days of internet writing just a few years ago? We should have appreciated it more, savored the discourse longer. Read the comments with more gusto.

This morning — and against my better instincts — I’d like to take the temperature on a related issue, brought to the forefront by Fergie and her cringe-worthy rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at last night’s NBA All-Star Game.

Is an objectively poor National Anthem preferable to no anthem at all? What is more disrespectful: not playing Francis Scott Key’s song before an athletic conquest or butchering it?

Preserving the sanctity of the anthem is not some abstract issue. Look no further than the earthquake set in motion by players kneeling. If players and fans must show respect during its playing, shouldn’t the performer be held to the same standard?

Do spectacularly poor anthems do more harm than good? If so, how bad does it have to be in order to qualify as a net-negative experience?

Going further: do the singer’s motives matter? Is there a difference between a disasterous vocal outing and a trainwreck brought on by altering the anthem so much its unrecognizable?

My personal belief is that taking artistic license with the song is acceptable if the primary focus remains on the message, not the singer. We’ve seen that line flirted with and crossed in the past. But when the performance veers into an area where it is distracting from its intended purpose — ostensibly honoring America — then its merits become more questionable.

A penny for your off-key thoughts.

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