The current round of discussions surrounding the playing of the national anthem has taken on a renewed sense of urgency. The prospect for change seems real this time, and I’m surprised how much I care about this issue. It strikes close to the heart and soul of Goshen College’s identity.I still don’t understand what is so sacrosanct about an athletic contest that makes it the ultimate proving ground for one’s identification with country. The anthem is not played at most other public assemblages.
I’ve been attending GC games since I was a junior high kid. Never have I heard the national anthem played. Never have I seen the flag displayed. And never have I heard a word of explanation why GC chooses to make this statement of cultural defiance. The sports fan is left in a vacuum to make his/her own conclusions.
I deeply regret that our athletes, coaches and athletic directors have unfairly borne the brunt of our institutional stance. It is they who get accosted by disgruntled fans in the hallways after games. It is they who must explain a position that has only recently been articulated by campus leadership. I feel badly about this.
The current proposal for playing an instrumental version of the anthem falls short of finding middle ground. It doesn’t explicitly mention the flag, but I‘m told the intention is to have the flag on display for the anthem. This proposal merely acquiesces to common practice in college sports. I think middle ground could be achieved by playing “America, the Beautiful”, prefaced by a very short printed and verbal statement as to why this song is consistent with GC’s faith-based values. Two well-worded sentences could instill basic understanding to campus visitors. This alternative anthem has a beautiful tune and lyrics that honor America without conjuring militaristic images. It doesn’t require the flag. Shucks, it’s even singable.
Some may call for a prayer at the outset of a game. While I’m not necessarily opposed, I still wonder what is so hallowed about a game. I’ve never been to a concert or a play where a prayer implored the Almighty to keep the trombones from splitting a lip, or the actors from breaking a leg, or that everyone would be on their best behavior, or that the audience would all return home safely. That’s the essence of most pre-game prayers.
Let’s continue to think critically and act with intentionality. I am sure we’ll find common ground.
Stan Miller is the GC registrar and a season ticket holder since 1963.