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Elise Sax Headshot

O Say, Can We Sing?

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AP
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Some things stay comfortably the same year in and year out. Like baseball. Here we are at the beginning of another season, and the ballparks look the same, the hot dogs taste the same, and the beer runs cold until the 7th inning stretch. Just like always.

But suddenly I'm a pariah in the stands. Suddenly I'm the embarrassment, and I'm not even doing anything differently. In fact, everybody else has changed. Everybody else has altered the rules. I'm just the poor baseball fan doing the same thing baseball fans have been doing since the game was invented.

So, what is making people stare at me at the beginning of each game? What is making my son shh me?

Our National Anthem.

You know the one. It's the song we all used to sing at the beginning of sporting events. We would stand as one and sing it straight through, our voices rising as a community. Sure, it's not the easiest song to sing, but our voices would gain strength in numbers.

It was more than about patriotism. It was about community, participation, belonging. I remember the joy my tone-deaf mother would get, whining out the song along with other tens-of-thousands of fans who made the trek to watch their team play, everyone connecting on a deep and joyous level. For that moment my mother was Whitney Houston, singing her heart out.

Well, actually she wasn't Whitney Houston. She wasn't anything approaching Whitney Houston. In fact, if you singled her out, she sounded more like a strangled cat than Whitney Houston.

Who can sing the National Anthem as beautifully as Whitney Houston? A whole string of performers try. And that's the point. Nowadays, we all stand with our hands on our hearts, our hats in our hands, and we listen to those performers sing the Anthem.

Instead of participating, we are merely spectators, not just spectators at a sporting event, but spectators of the spectators at a sporting event. As the pop singer, rock guitarist, navy band, or kid prodigy stands and sings O Say Can You See, the fans remain silent. They wait to see if the performer can hit that note -- you know the one -- and applaud if it's done well and if there is a little extra warbling on the high notes.

But I'm the rebellious type, and so I try to sing along, and you would think I was a war criminal or something by the reaction of the people around me. At the very least, I'm seen as unpatriotic because the Anthem nowadays is left to the person with a recording contract.

Are we such a nation of couch potatoes, of observers instead of participants, that we have relegated this tradition to the one instead of the all?

I hold out hope. I mean, everyone still sings "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." It's a start.

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