MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We’ve become accustomed to “The Star-Spangled Banner” being played before most any game. So David from Minneapolis asked: How did the national anthem become a sports tradition? Good Question.
The words were written as a poem by Frances Scott Key during the War of 1812 after he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry.
According to Marc Ferris, author of “Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem,” the song almost immediately became the top patriotic song in the U.S., even though it wasn’t named the official anthem until 1931.
Ferris says there’s a myth the anthem tradition started at the 1918 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, where Babe Ruth pitched a shutout. The song was played during the seventh-inning stretch during the first game of that series, but it had been played at previous events. Ferris says he found documentation “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played at a baseball game in Brooklyn in 1862.
Back then, the anthem was only played at public special events, like opening days or holidays. Bands had to be brought in because the sound systems weren’t fully developed.
By World War II, the anthem was played every day at theaters, operas, town meetings and professional baseball and hockey games. The NBA didn’t exist at that time.
The anthem at sporting events has weathered its fair share of controversy. In 2016, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the song, citing what he called the oppression of people of color. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was also protested at sporting events during the 1960s.