At Least Show Some Respect for Our Anthem

At a time when the media are constantly pointing out social, political and ideological divisions in America, most of us can agree on uniting around the larger meaning of our nation and the sacrifices that made it possible in the first place. This is embodied in our National Anthem.

Throughout our nation’s history, it has become customary to regularly honor America and those who have given so much to assure our freedoms and way of life since its beginnings.

This is a usual and customary practice that takes place prior to a wide range of public functions and ceremonies, including athletics events at all levels.

This silent, overt act of acknowledgment and respect during the National Anthem is a salute to all those who have served and is not much to ask, given the enormity of the message it carries. It is also a gesture of unity and support for our nation and the freedoms we all enjoy.

This was so important that Congress enacted a law requiring proper etiquette during the playing of the National Anthem.

The U.S. Code reads:

“During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.”

Despite the law, though, federal courts have decided that failure to obey this statute may be construed as protected speech and may not be punished. This, however, misses the point. Appropriate conduct during our National Anthem represents basic courtesy and respect for our nation and those whose sacrifices preserved it, past and present.

Good manners are the lubricant of our social interactions and make our daily lives easier and more pleasant. Proper National Anthem etiquette is a simple display of good manners and respect, no matter who you are or where you come from. Regardless of our individual beliefs concerning free speech issues or whether we choose to respect or demean the sacrifices of those who served to protect our freedom, we can and should at least be mannerly and polite. This is not the time for staring at the floor, rocking side to side, phoning, texting, chatting or acting out. Neither is it the venue for stylized interpretations of the Anthem. It is about the Anthem, not the artist or some creative rendition. For all Americans, it should be two minutes of solemnity and respect. For any non-Americans, it should be a time of quiet courtesy extended to the host country and its citizens.

Observing athletics teams during the playing of the Anthem and seeing fans, players and coaches with eyes on the flag and hands on the heart, I can only infer the positive qualities that they, their families and their schools value, respect and hold sacred. The converse is also true when I see fans, athletes, coaches or other institutional personnel behaving in ways not prescribed by the United States Code.

Watching ill-mannered adults’ reprehensible behavior during the playing of the Anthem, I can only surmise that they must have made a conscious and thoughtful decision to publicly display and demonstrate their disrespect. Children whose manners are just as bad as these adults are either reflecting the views of their parents or they are the victims of poor parenting, overindulgence and don’t know, or worse, don’t care about responsible behavior.

If you are going to reap the benefits of the land of the free and the home of the brave, the least you can do is show some respect.

Dr. Terry Wallace is a Senior Scholar at the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia and a board member of the West Virginia Access Center for Higher Education.

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