At professional football games, at least the regular season ones, the playing of the National Anthem takes place just before the broadcast coverage begins. This was not the case 20-30 years ago. Back then, the announcers usually signed on the air, said hello to the audience after which the National Anthem was presented. As the music played, we viewers were treated to awkward visuals of the players as they stood at attempted attention. Lots of them made a serious effort to sing along while placing their hand on their heart. Others, meanwhile, had their helmets tucked under one arm while they reached to scratch various parts of their bodies with the other. Those guys didn’t realize the camera was on them, or didn’t care.
All this was really bad television so the National Anthem was eventually moved forward before the networks signed on. More importantly, this made room for another commercial or two and that worked for everyone. The networks could make some more money and the viewers could still run to the john or raid the fridge one more time before settling in for the kickoff.
During the past two weeks there has been a new, unexpected wrinkle taking up time in the pre-game segment of some games—specifically, moments of silence or some kind of memorial discourse dedicated to the recent and untimely death of a football player. Last week it was for a linebacker who played for the Kansas City Chiefs. He shot and killed his girlfriend (the mother of their child), then drove to the stadium to commit suicide in front of his coach. This week’s ceremony was for a Dallas Cowboy who died in an automobile accident. An allegedly intoxicated teammate was at the wheel and he faces charges of manslaughter.
Both games went on as scheduled and so-called “appropriate” sentiment was discussed by the announcers in solemn tone at various times throughout the game. These comments seemed to imply what a hardship it was for these magnificent athletes to have to put aside their personal grief for the death of a teammate while they proceeded business-as-usual to plow themselves into the hips, stomachs and heads of the opposing team. Of course, we didn’t have to feel any sympathy for the latter—no one on their team was killed. And gee, we hoped the dead player’s team would win the game so proper tribute to the deceased could be achieved and a game ball given on his behalf.
To be honest, I am glad I am not the person who had to make the decision as to whether or not either of these games should have been played. It is probably easier to stop a locomotive than it is the NFL juggernaut. I probably would have leaned in the direction of postponing the games and sending everyone in the two cities home for a timeout. This, I think, would have been the more discrete decision. Then again, I was raised on the concept that standing still and taking a moment of reflection while our National Anthem is played is the proper and patriotic thing to do.
But consider this: for a stadium full of fans whose cheers always drown out the final lyrics, “the land of the free and home of the brave” because folks are impatient and want to get on with the game, it would not be unexpected that memorial tributes would be packaged up and treated in like manner. I would not be surprised if we continue to see these unfortunate deaths occur every now and then. After all, football is a violent sport played by violent people. Hopefully it is only coincidental that there have been two situations a mere week apart. If this trend were to continue, I suspect subsequent memorial moments at the game will be moved to the pre-broadcast segment. That’ll give back some time to the announcers so they can work those commercials in a little more easily.
Marc Kuhn is the author of two children’s books: NEVER GOOSE A MOOSE…And a bunch of other things you should never do!; and ABOUT A FARM. Also, just published is an adult historical novel, THE POPE’S STONE.
All three books are available at amazon.com and each has its own .com website under its title.