I have had a long and meaningful relationship with the city of Cleveland via its annual Rite-Aid Cleveland Marathon & 10K, an event I first announced in 1978. During that time I have come to know and commiserate with the city’s championship sporting blight, and was rooting hard for LeBron and the Cavs last night in Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the defending champ Golden State Warriors.
What brought meaning to the “Land’s” first pro sport’s title in 52 years, though, wasn’t just LeBron’s triple/double excellence, or mid-year coach Ty Lue’s mid-game adjustments, like putting center Tristan Thompson on Steph Curry in the 4th quarter – he absolutely denied him the ball, ensuring that the two-time MVP couldn’t rise and rip away the game and title in a blur of late-game three-pointers. No, what I loved most, and what reflected the city best, was how the Cleveland Cavalier fans all sang the national anthem together before their home games rather than have somebody perform it for them.
We have become so used to having the National Anthem sung before any gathering of eight or more people that crowds begin clapping somewhere around mid-tune these days. We have almost become inured to the ritual. How many people still realize that singing the National Anthem at sporting events began during the Cubs-Red Sox World Series in 1918 near the end of World War I when tens of thousands of American men were still fighting and dying overseas? By WWII what had been reserved for special games, became part of every pre-game ceremony.
We felt something of the song’s original patriotism when Whitney Houston took the anthem into spine-tingling territory at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 at the onset of the First Gulf War. Unfortunately, that special rendition only encouraged every warbler from sea to shining sea to start “trying to make it their own” in the ensuing years. Not a proper legacy for Whitney, nor one she would have encouraged, I’m sure.
We have become so used to having PA announcers far and wide introduce some professional entertainer to perform the anthem, that we have lost sight of its significance over time. After all, it is a battle song, recalling the staunch defense of Baltimore’s embattled Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.
Therefore, to stand passively as the thing is performed at you is all but antithetical to the message of the song. Just as democracy itself works best with a fully engaged populace, so too does the Star-Spangled Banner become so much more meaningful when it is sung together without amplification. It creates the feeling of we are all in this together. There’s a sense of community that emerges, a sense of national pride that comes pouring through when we do it in union, good voices and bad, high voices and low. All we need is someone to get us started.
Of course, some performers like Whitney or Marvin Gaye, Jose Feliciano and Jimi Hendrix can lift the standard to new heights, but we are just as, or more likely to get someone like Roseanne Barr or Carl Lewis butcher the thing.
So for me it was that simple group sing-a-long, and how it made me feel, that had me rooting hard for the Clevelanders yesterday every bit as much as seeing them end their long championship dry-spell. Hopefully, people that stage sports competitions everywhere will have also been moved, and act accordingly.
In 2004 the Red Sox ended their eight-decade Curse of the Bambino. Now the Cavs are off the championship schneid. Only the Cubbies left, I guess. Or, would that be one too many bombs bursting in air for 2016?