Brought to me through ESPN:
I recently watched The St. Louis Cardinals play the Pittsburgh Pirates. Baseball had never interested me much until I started hanging out in bars—which contain experts. Now, with their help, I'm beginning to get the hang of it. The game is considerably more subtle than I had imagined. But the thing that most interested me was when the action ceased for the Seventh Inning Stretch. During this traditional break (baseball is nothing if not tradition) a quite large woman who looked like Kate Smith but sang more like tweety-bird belted out the national anthem. I had not been aware that a person of such bulk could reach such high and sharp notes. Imperceptibly, I scrunched down on my stool, just a little embarrassed for her.
Near her on the infield grass was a young man who served no obvious purpose, but he silently, and reverently mouthed the words along with the singer. I believe he held his hand over his heart. The camera panned her and him first, and then other parts of the stadium showing rough-tough baseball players, obviously infused with patriotism, standing pensively. It was a moving moment in the same way that wax museums bring to mind the souls of people who no longer move, those who will indefinitely evoke some grand aspect of their past.
This diorama made me wonder just why is it that professional sports—a quite profitable private (not to mention monopolistic) enterprise—feel themselves obliged to project such still-life patriotism. And the same can be said of other sports not even excluding NASCAR automobile racing. The more I thought about it the more I realized that sports themselves are enactments, miniatures of life, small dramas that illustrate proper morals and, at their best, if only occasionally, good sportsmanship.
Then a dark shadow passed across my mind and I wondered if perhaps this waxen patriotism might not be part of a unwritten deal with our government which grants them this monopoly, a deal to promote right thinking and good citizenship among the masses and, lately, to give just a slight boost to multiculturalism. But then I thought, Willi, you're old and getting cynical.
In the bottom of the ninth, the pirates won 5-4. All cheered.