Why is the National Anthem sung before sporting events in the U.S.?

So anyway, there I was, watching the NASCAR prerace on the new 47" widescreen TV last weekend, when somebody began to sing the national anthem. My wife, who never watches sporting events and who is originally from China, happened to be in the room at the time. She was very surprised to hear the national anthem being sung and told me that she thought it was only performed during the olympics for whichever country won a particular gold medal. I told her that the national anthem is played before just about every sporting even in the U.S., whether it be baseball basketball, football, or car racing, and that they’ve been doing it as long as I can remember.

And then she asked me why it was done…

Does anybody know when and why this practice originated? Did it start out with one particular sport and then migrate to others? Are we here in the U.S. overly patriotic, or do other countries do this as well?



google search on “national anthem sporting event history” found this site, which had this info:

Great cite, thanks!


Because there’s no time for it during and afterward, everyone leaves.

Personally, I wish they didn’t.

I think it would mean more to people if it was only sung on special occasions.

Every baseball game is a special occasion.

I’m kind of glad they play it so much; it increases the chances that people will finally get sick of it and demand a decent anthem. (America the Beautiful, anyone?)

I agree. AtB would be a much better anthem.

Every NASCAR race is also a special occasion. Very special.


Major league baseball may have played the national anthem from time to time (for special occasions like World Series games), but it didn’t become regular practice until WWII. See this article. It was part of the upswelling of patriotism during that period.

An honest answer from me to the first part of that won’t do anything for international relations, but we only play national anthems at international sporting events here. Apparently they used to play it at the end of the programme in the cinema years ago, and they still do at the end of the day’s broadcasting on BBC radio. The version I hear always goes “God save our <click>”.

Happens in Canada too.

Americans are generally fonder of patriotic displays – the flag, the anthem, the pledge, etc. than people from other countries. This was particularly noted after 9/11, when non-Americans were surprised by the sheer quantity of patriotic symbolism in the U.S. The reasons for this were debated both in the media and on the SDMB – I’m not sure how you would search to find the threads, but there were a number of discussions here about why Americans were so eager to put their flag on everything, while posters from European countries were unlikely to display theirs. One theory, which seems reasonable to me, is that in many countries the flag, anthem, etc. are symbols of the historically oppressive government (i.e., even if there’s no king now, there was one once, and the trappings of patriotism represent him), while in the U.S., the flag represents the people and their ideals. This somewhat glurgy article that was published in a Romanian newspaper shortly after 9/11 has a foreign perspective on American patriotism.

I love The Star Spangled Banner and would hate to see it replaced, even if I can’t hit the high notes.

As an avid sports non-fan I don’t really know, but I have always assumed national anthems are only played at international events and I was very sickened when I happened to be in the vicinity of a TV set the other day showing some football match (real football that is, when you play the ball with your feet ;)) and they played the Swedish national anthem before the game started.

Sounds very unreasonable to me, at least from a European point of view. Of course I can only speak for myself, but I have a feeling that we just don’t have the same feelings for our home countries as US’ers. We feel at home in it and like it, yes, but we don’t put it on a pedestal. BTW, the only people in Sweden that would describe themselves as patriots and take that word in their mouths are the neonazis.

Floater - I don’t know why you find my theory unreasonable, since what you say seems to support it. Americans associate patriotism with the ideals on which our nation was founded – justice, freedom, democracy, etc., while Europeans, as you point out, associate it with the worst types of oppression.

It’s hard for me to understand why someone would be sickened by the playing of their own national anthem when the playing of my national anthem makes me feel warm and proud. But that just further answers the question posed by the O.P. – yes, we in the U.S. are more patriotic than people of many other countries. If we want to delve any further into why this is the case, we will have to move to a different forum.

As was mentioned, we do it in Canada too. If a Canadian team is playing an American team, both anthems are played.

The SSB has been sung at sporting events for decades. If people were ever going to get tired of it, that would have happened long ago.

And AtB is, well, beautiful, but it has that pesky word “God” in it. The modern interpretation of the principle of separation of church and state would exclude the song from any official recognition. You’d have to rewrite the lyrics to get it accepted, and that would be awful.

Floater: I think it’s similar in the UK. For many people here too, patriotism has right-wing connotations: from small-c conservatism via anti-Europe insularity to outright neo-Nazi connections. I’m not keen on our national anthem, either; it’s a song praising the current monarch, not celebrating the nation.

It’s worth remembering that the European continent is not a homogenous place with a single attitude to patriotism throughout, nor have all European countries had oppressive governments in recent memory. The tendency for extremists in European countries to use claims of “patriotism” to disguise their xenophobia is not unique to this continent either – do far-right Americans not also claim to be patriots?

As Floater and raygirvan have said, flag-waving and singing of the national anthem are associated with those sorts of views in some European countries, but in others people still do sing their national anthem and show their national colours at sporting events irrespective of their political views. France, Holland and Italy are all good examples of this.

National anthems are still not commonly associated with domestic sports in many places, though, only international ones. I suspect that if the USA seems “excessively” patriotic to European eyes it’s because of the ubiquity of patriotic displays, not because Europeans never express kinship with their fellow countrymen.

BTW: The Star Spangled Banner did not become the legally official National Anthem until the 1930’s.

SpoilerVirgin, I believe that what Floater and raygirvan are saying is that in the Euro viewpoint nationalism is looked down upon for what they have seen it do very recently (ETA terrorism, skinhead violence, Yugoslav ethnic cleansing, Greece’s infantile tantrum over the word “Macedonia”), even if there is no particular negative association in their own country. I don’t think Swedes have a collective memory of living under the tyrannical thumb of Stockholm.

Yet another element in play, in many countries does have to do with the people/state disengagement, but not so much out of revulsion but out of the State (even anominally democratic one in an otherwise reasonably pleasant land) actually having the legal monopoly of the national ensigns. There are countries where use of the official flags, anthems, etc. in their own soil is reserved exclusively for State functions and it would be considered “desecration” for José Blow to just stick the flag on anything (unless, maybe, it’s a national holiday, and then only in an authorized manner). In that sense, the USA is one of the most liberal nations on Earth as to what Joe Citizen can do with the flag and anthem – in many countries a having used-car sales lot mark itself by flying a gigantic-ass national flag would mean heavy fines for simulating a government office; while any would-be imitator of Feliciano, Hendrix or Houston would be lucky to get out of the venue w/o being arrested on the spot, never mind having it become a fixture in any “greatest hits” collection.

I can’t offer any cites on this, I can only pass along anecdotes I’ve heard.

As I understand it, the national anthem only became standard at baseball games in the U.S. during World War 2. During the war, there were a fair number of people who thought baseball should be halted entirely. President Roosevelt himself, however, urged that the games continue, since they were good for morale on the homefront, and because troops overseas invariably wanted to know how their favorite teams were doing back home.

I think that baseball teams started playing the national anthem regularly during the war, as a way of making the games seem like a patriotic effort, rather than a frivolous waste of manpower and resources.