2009.06.03 All those hatless heads

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I saw such a funny sight at the state track meet Saturday. I should have noticed it in the past, but I think the sun made the difference.

I was standing near the high jump pit when the National Anthem was played—wait a minute, since when was there a pit at the high jump event? Fifty years ago?

And now I feel another digression coming on. I just don’t understand the concept of playing the National Anthem at every sporting event in the country. Why are we reminded of the rockets red glare before the hockey puck is dropped? Why are we given the image of bombs bursting in air before the first pitch is thrown?

Suppose all four stanzas of Francis Scott Key’s poem were used?

On the shore dimly seen thro’ the mists of the deep,

Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,

What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,

As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?

I’ve heard it played so many times over so many years of sports coverage that I now quickly assess how each version is going to play out. Will it be one of those really s-l-o-w deliveries that seem to drag on forever or will it come through as a peppier rendition?

At high school football games, it’s almost always live. A school band shows its skills or lack thereof. At high school basketball games, a pep band might provide the music or—I really dread this one—a student, almost always a female, will sing the song.

Twenty years ago it might have been sung, either well or badly, in a straightforward manner. Now, the singer has to mimic some singing star who shows off with a range of tones instead of a single note. It’s like turning a one-syllable word into one with five.

And the crowd loves it and I realize, once again, that I really don’t belong in that gymnasium, that I really don’t deserve to hear the performance, that I’m just a jaded, tired old misanthrope who can’t control his cynicism. But it’s my job and I must be there.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.

So there I was Saturday at Forest Hills Eastern High School awaiting the National Anthem. Actually, it was the second time of the day. “The perilous fight” was played out in the morning before the first heat of the 100-meter dash preliminaries.

That was back when I first started reading the slogan shirts that are responsible for athletes’ performances. A lot of those kids never would have made it to the state meet if they hadn’t worn a T-shirt all season that read: “Do work son.” I think on the front it read “Commas are overrated.”

How about this: “My blood, my sweat, your tears.”

Here’s another: “Run hard or run home.”

A Christian school turned to the Old Testament to urge its athletes to “run with endurance.” How about this Bible message T-shirt: “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.”

So I’ve been to too many sporting events in the past 30 years.

OK, I was standing by the high jump mound waiting for Phoenix Duncan to do her thing. She had already fallen short of her best in the long jump and was probably hoping to make up for it in the high jump.

She approaches the bar almost dead-on rather from the side and I was standing off to the side so I wouldn’t be in her view.

But it was time for the Star Spangled Banner and gentlemen were asked to remove their hats to show respect.  Women, on the other hand, were allowed to wear their hats because head-gear on a woman shows no disrespect.

All right, I won’t go into that. I’m probably already due letters to the editor accusing me of being unpatriotic.

The music began. It was moderate in speed, but it was done so well that it didn’t matter if it dragged. Wonderful brass.

I couldn’t look up at the flag because of the position of the sun, so I looked straight ahead and saw hundreds of men without their caps. It was hilarious. Men always wear hats at sporting events. Bald spots, funny hat hair, matted down hair...all these strangely uncovered heads all o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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