Task force seeks compromise for ‘anthem’ at sports events

After at least six years of discussion about the inclusion of the national anthem before Goshen College sporting events, a newly formed task force has proposed a compromise on the issue: providing the option to have an instrumental version played.

In the past, the college has chosen to not play the national anthem before sporting events—a common tradition among many sports, particularly indoor sports—due to its affiliation with the Mennonite church.

After years of brewing discussion, in October of 2008, the idea of changing the school’s tradition and playing the national anthem was being seriously considered.  In fact, a task force was going to be created to begin the steps toward reevaluation.

But on Nov. 1 of that year, after the first women’s basketball game on campus, a parent of the opposing team raised concerns about the college’s practice and contacted both local and national media outlets practice.  This resulted in a media blitz.

As a result, Bill Born, vice president of student life and dean of students, was on the air of The Mike Gallagher Show (a New York-based national conservative radio talk show, ranked eighth in the country for its audience size).  After this event, the college received around 350 communications from the public after the interaction, voicing both concerns and support.  At this point, the previous plan for a task force was postponed, so it would not appear to be an act of retaliation.

In the spring of 2009, after the topic was not under as much attention, the president’s council appointed a task force to begin dialogue about the issue, and potentially come up with a proposal for action.

Members of the task for include: Born; Tim Demant, athletic director; Joe Liechty, professor and director of peace, justice and conflict studies; Jewell Lehman, associate professor of physical education and secondary education; Gary Chupp, assistant professor of physical education; Alli Hawkins, a senior and member of the women’s volleyball team; and Daniel Martin, a sophomore and member of the men’s soccer team.

The group met four times last spring, and once this fall.

Demant explained that the process of discussions was just as important, if not more, than the actual outcome.

Communication seemed to be the biggest issue in regards to playing the anthem.  Coaches trying to recruit players often faced questions about the absence of the cultural tradition.

“The misunderstanding of the issue creates is a bigger obstacle than the positive message we are trying to communicate [by not playing it],” said Demant.

Liechty explained that by not playing the anthem, we really aren’t explaining what we believe, and an efficient avenue for discussion often isn’t there.

Noting his affiliation with the Mennonite church, he said, “I’ve liked being at a place where they do it my way, but I am willing to do something to make other people feel comfortable.”

The choice to play an instrumental version eliminates the violent lyrics referencing war (which jive with one of the core Mennonite beliefs of nonviolence) but still honors the cultural tradition of playing the national anthem.

“Some people will still find it inadequate even if we explain why,” he said.  “Playing it or not playing it isn’t really the point.  It’s a consensus around the issue of hospitality, and is as much about living in community as it is an external statement.”

The members of the task force also recognize that the institution is changing.  According to Demant, 20 years ago the student body was around 70 percent Mennonite.  Currently, according to the college Web site, more than 40 different Christian denominations and several world religions are represented on campus.

Demant raised the broader questions, “How do we maintain a theological perspective while valuing differing opinions?  How do we decide which issues are negotiable?”

Demant drafted the new proposal, which was presented to the president’s council on Wednesday.  Next Wednesday, Nov. 4, a town hall meeting will be held in NC 19 from 7:30-9 p.m. as a time of dialogue for students and the greater Goshen community.  Ross Peterson-Veatch, associate academic dean, and Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, associate professor of peace, justice and conflict studies, will lead the conversation.

Martin said, noting the lack of students who attended the recent discussion on the national anthem, “It is common for many college students to talk about an issue they care about, but not really do anything about it.  It is important that students show up to the next meeting to represent their beliefs.”

Ideally, a final decision, made by the president’s council, will be presented by the time the basketball season begins, before any another issues arise, said Demant.

To view the full proposal, go to http://record.goshen.edu/2009/10/7981-national-anthem-task-force-proposal.

Written by Alysha Landis

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