|Francis Scott Key do's-and-don'ts|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
Prior to last Sunday's playoff game between the Detroit Pistons and the Toronto Raptors, fans at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., booed throughout the playing of Canada's national anthem. Adding further insult, Sunday also was the day Canada began burying the four soldiers accidentally killed by a U.S. bomb in Afghanistan.
The Pistons fans weren't alone. Some New York fans booed "O, Canada" before Wednesday's Islanders-Maple Leafs game and some Vancouver fans booed the "Star-Spangled Banner" before this week's Canucks-Red Wings games.
None of this is particularly surprising. If you want a national anthem to receive a respectful and proper response, you play it at a more dignified gathering than in front of drunk fans at sporting events. As embarrassing as the "O, Canada" booing was, I think the lowest moment for a national anthem occurred a dozen or so years ago before a game in Minnesota when Ronald McDonald drove onto the field in a Big Mac-mobile, stopped the vehicle at second base, squeezed himself out and sang the "Star-Spangled Banner."
As they say, only in America.
Ever since Sept. 11, Americans have worn their patriotism as proudly as an NBA first-rounder wears his tattoos, singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America" with all the passion once reserved for "YMCA." The leagues, meanwhile, are tripping over themselves with 9/11 tributes, slapping the Stars and Stripes on so many uniforms that you would think the U.S. manufactured athletic shoes. And what with the World Series, the Super Bowl and the Olympics, we see that World Trade Center flag at sporting events more than the ESPN banner.
Baseball even ordered its teams to continue playing "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch but, refreshingly, several clubs do not, playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" instead. And that's good because, frankly, it was all getting to be a little much.
A lot of people say we need those moments as a reminder of what happened last September and what this country stands for. But if anyone needs drunk fans trying to sing "the bombs bursting in air" on key as a reminder we live in a great country, they really ought to exchange their season tickets for a library card. Because clearly they need to devote a little more time learning about our country and a little less time researching their fantasy league draft.
I understand that many people believe playing the national anthem before ballgames is very important. Which is fine. But to avoid future embarrassments such as the one in Auburn Hills, we need to agree on a few simple rules as well.
1. Don't ever boo when they play another country's national anthem. Especially when it sounds so much better than ours.
2. When selecting a person to sing the national anthem, teams should first make sure the person can actually sing.
Everyone ripped Roseanne for her screeching rendition, but whose idea was it to put the microphone in the hands of a nasal-voiced comedian anyway?
Not that a résumé is any guarantee. The Mariners once scheduled a Grammy Award winner to sing the national anthem, only to find out during the singer's performance that she suffered from Tourette's syndrome, and they listened in horror when she sprinkled her rendition with uncontrolled curses.
3. Keep it brisk. It's one thing to take a moment for the national anthem. It's quite another to listen to a diva drawing it out longer than FDR's term in office.
4. Mix it up: The last time I checked, the Constitution does not require that all teams must always play the "Star Spangled Banner" before a game (although I think Orrin Hatch is working on that one). So why do it? If they must play some patriotic song, regularly sprinkle in "America the Beautiful" or "My Country 'Tis of Thee" or This Land is Your Land." Anything to keep the moment from becoming what it almost always is, a mere routine.
5. Before singing, take off your cap and check your wallet for a voter registration card. Hey, it's nice you feel proud when you sing "God Bless America." It would be even nicer if you had actually voted for something in the past decade besides your favorite web-gem.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.