Let’s settle the debate once and for all about one of sports’ most polarizing topics

How do you feel about the anthem issue? Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images.

Eleven times this season the Dallas Mavericks played a home game at American Airlines Center and nobody seemed to notice or care:

They didn't play the national anthem before the game.

Then word got out and there was fuss and furor and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver lowered the boom. All NBA teams will play the "Star-Spangled Banner" before every game.

Yes, there is a hyphen in Star-Spangled.

Like to wear or not wear a mask to protect against COVID-19, it's startling how the national anthem, which should unite all Americans, has become a political weapon pitting conservatives vs. liberals, blacks vs. police, athletes vs. team owners, Colin Kaepernick vs. President Donald Trump.

Americans against Americans.

While this battle rages, the rest of the world wonders, why do American sports teams play the "Star-Spangled Banner" before high school football games, WrestleMania matches, boxing bouts, NASCAR races, Little League to Big League baseball games, anyway?

Do Americans really need to hear the national anthem before the Memphis Grizzlies take on the Sacramento Kings? Many of us wait impatiently, beers in both hands, for the anthem to end so we can get to our seats. Our hot dogs are getting cold.

To the rest of the world, playing the national anthem before meaningless regular-season games night after night is so, well, so American. They're not complimenting us. We're also the only fans who holler the name of our country, "USA! USA! USA," when an American team hosts a foreign team.

So how did it happen that "the home of the brave" is the cue for the umpire to shout "play ball!"

It's a funny thing about the anthem. According to a 2009 Harris Poll, fans say that hearing the anthem makes them "feel proud to be an American." Yet another poll revealed that 61 percent of us wouldn't know the words unless they were flashed on the scoreboard. Or we're in a karaoke bar. And who is this Richard Stands fellow?

The words were written as a poem titled The Defence of Fort M'Henry by lawyer and part-time poet Francis Scott Key in 1814. Key was inspired by the sight of the U.S. flag still flying over Fort McHenry despite fierce bombing by British soldiers during the War of 1812. The flag had 15 stars and 15 stripes at the time and was nicknamed the "Star-Spangled Banner."

The music came later, melody borrowed from an old British drinking tune called "The Anacreantic Song." Put the poem and melody together and you've got "The Star-Spangled Banner," which would wait more than a century to be officially designated the American national anthem.

Footnote: Key came from a southern family that owned slaves and later supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. So there's that.

The first time the "Star-Spangled Banner" was played at the World Series was in 1918. The Cubs, led by Fred Merkle (who earlier pulled a legendary baserunning boner) faced the Boston Red Sox, with pitcher-slugger Babe Ruth going 13-7 on the mound with a 2.22 ERA while swatting 11 homers. All the other Sox hitters together managed 4 homers. Oh, and the Babe pitched a 1-0 shutout in Game One of the World Series that year.

The Series opened at Wrigley Field (then called Weeghman Park) and the Cubs decided to play the "Star-Spangled Banner" during the seventh inning. Fans already were on their feet for the seventh inning stretch, and that's how the tradition of standing for the national anthem at ballgames began. Now of course standing is considered a symbol of respect for our country.

When the Series moved to Boston, the Sox played the anthem before the game, and that's how that tradition started. The Sox won the title, 4 games to 2.

Playing the anthem before baseball games across the Major League caught on during World War I as patriotism swept America. An Act of Congress made the "Star-Spangled Banner" the official U.S. national anthem in 1931.

Here's one that might surprise you. The Chicago Cubs stopped playing the anthem before games after World War II ended in 1945 and didn't resume playing it until 1967. Reason: Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley thought the anthem was being played too often at too many places, which reduced its sanctity.

Forward to 2021, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban caught a lot of flak when he acknowledged that the team hasn't played the anthem all season and had no plans of playing it in the future.

The president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association said, "Get woke, go broke. I won't spend another cent on @Dallasmavs."

John Rich of the country duo Big & Rich said, "Wonder what he'd do if I bought a ticket then stood up in my seat and got the whole crowd singing at the top of their lungs."

Cuban reversed his decision after Silver ordered the anthem to be played before all NBA games. But don't worry about Cuban going broke, and he's richer than Rich. Cuban is worth $4.2 billion, more than all the other sharks on Shark Tank combined.

Cuban did have support for not playing the national anthem at American Airlines Center. Among them New Orleans Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy who said, "This should happen everywhere. What good reason is there to play the anthem before a game?"

How do you feel about the anthem issue? Should it be played before sports events, let's end the practice, or replace it with another song? I'd vote for "America the Beautiful." It's a prettier song, patriotic and inclusive, really describes our amazing natural landscape and, most important, the words rhyme.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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