This weekend had a lot to offer for sports fans. And it gave a glimpse into some of America’s differences in the process.
As we’ve mentioned in earlier reporting, President Trump performed the ceremonial role of Grand Marshall of the Daytona 500. Seemingly half a world away, in Chicago, the NBA held their annual All Star game.
You could hardly imagine a starker contrast than the two crowds: the everyman feel of a NASCAR event with the roar of engines, contrasted against a vibe of the best-of-the-best millionaire pro athletes who have become not just the elites of their chosen sport, but of a place in society few can even dream of — and often are not shy about throwing that clout around.
Scrolling through the chatter on social media, a profound difference in something as simple as the handling of the anthems at both events struck this writer as shedding an important light on what divides the different regional and political differences of the nation.
You will notice that both of these singers are skilled vocalists, they are both women, and neither of the performers are white. This last point is only relevant insofar as many of the left’s typical kneejerk objections to the observations that follow are shot down before they can even be raised.
First, here is the NBA’s rendition of the anthem, as delivered by Chaka Kahn:
— kingtisemedia (@kingtisemedia) February 17, 2020
To be fair to the NBA crowd, not everyone there loved it…
This Chaka Khan national anthem….pic.twitter.com/SVsEfdJEOd
— Cryptic (@CrypticNoOne) February 17, 2020
It got dragged pretty soundly on social media, too — even by people who normally enjoy her work.
Let’s contrast that with the anthem as it was sung before the Daytona 500.
Spine tingling. 🇺🇸 Beautiful rendition of anthem at Daytona 500. pic.twitter.com/8veSsVgTGy
— Rita Panahi (@RitaPanahi) February 16, 2020
Nalani Quintello, an Air Force sergeant and former American Idol contestant, will sing the national anthem before the 2020 Daytona 500. Quintello is a Florida native, and will be the third military member to perform the Daytona 500 anthem in the past four years. – Sporting News
What do we see contrasted here?
As mentioned, both of these women are musically talented. But they each brought something different to the task… they both focused on something different.
The first clip has a lot of improvisation, where significant latitude is taken from the original and familiar score. It is, strictly speaking, a performance that pushes its audience into the more detached role of a spectator because the performance is so very stylized that in some places the original tune is barely recognizable.
The second clip is the traditional version. It does not showcase the (obviously) talented musician that is singing the familiar song so much as the anthem itself. Rather than pushing away the audience into a spectator role, it draws a nation in, regardless of all the other things that might divide us by party, by social status, by regional or ethnic cultures, at a basic level, we all share this song and this flag.
In singing the traditional version, she elevated all of the unifying traditions embodied in our national symbols in the process.
And isn’t that the entire POINT of opening sporting events with the anthem?
However bitter the rivalry between the home team and away, in whatever sport you might imagine, we can have these two short minutes before the game in which we all stand as one people… undivided.
It exactly the same passion we see echoed at International events stands apart with the sometimes deafening chants of U-S-A where it doesn’t matter if the athlete is from New York or Kansas, what color the skin is, what bathroom they use or what languages they speak… the only thing that matters in that moment is the Red White And Blue of the flag they represent.
Blue States still scratch their heads trying to figure out what makes Red States tick. It isn’t really that complicated. In fact, it was a Democrat president who famously said ‘ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country’.
In saying that, he underscored the fact that our country is more than just a means to an end… just like the anthem is more than just an opportunity to perform and showcase your own skills.
Citizenship itself is precious, calling out a particular response to the traditions, symbols, and duties of an individual citizen.
There was a time when both parties agreed with this thinking, but one party has become deeply cynical about America and has come to see it mainly through jaundiced and judgmental eyes.
That might help explain why the laundry list of government handouts doesn’t resonate with Red States in the same way it does with some others.
But the difference that stands out the most with these performances, once the final word is sung, and the song is over, what are you left thinking about — a great performer, or a great nation?