Sports Column

The pealing anthem swells and dies before the jeering throng and begs the question, why?

Trent Frayne August 27 1979
Sports Column

The pealing anthem swells and dies before the jeering throng and begs the question, why?

Trent Frayne August 27 1979

The pealing anthem swells and dies before the jeering throng and begs the question, why?

Sports Column

Trent Frayne

Why is the toy department the last refuge of the national anthem? Why do the sports promoters repeatedly foist O Canada upon the paying guests? Why bring in pop singers and country singers and even opera singers to conduct running battles with the words and music the composer laid down? Are they aware that if they don’t stop pretty soon, somebody’s apt to blow up the grandstand?

Maybe it’s because victory has so long eluded the noble athletes in the trappings of Toronto that the fans there have become a trifle testy.

A while back, just before the Argonauts played a football game with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, a Welsh nightingale named Vic Franklyn rendered the vocal, slow of tempo and with the lyrics of the rarely heard second verse.

The 40,000-plus fans broke into prolonged boos, thinking the words were Franklyn’s own. They were not alone.

“We’re not going to pay œ him the $100 he was sup5

posed to get because he ï_

didn’t do what he was supposed to do,” sternly pronounced Doug Philpott, manager, communications and promotions.

“When we hired him I told him to make sure he did the standard version with no French and a quick tempo,” growled John Mullins, director, finance and administration.

In Toronto, employment of the French language represents a mighty ticklish venture. It is the town in which, 10 years ago, the elected fathers decided to augment a few traffic signs with tidbits of French to help Mr. Trudeau’s pitch for bilingualism. The word ARRÊT appeared under the word STOP at an intersection. This heady incursion into a second culture drew a rapid response. A guy drove into town from the nearby hamlet of Oakville with his foot on the floorboard and his hand on his gun. When he reached the offending intersection he filled the STOP/ARRÊT octagonal full of shotgun holes.

More recently, when the worst, now second-worst, team in baseball, the be-

loved Toronto Blue Jays, played a home engagement last season, management turned the anthem over to a slender thrush named Ruth Ann Wallace. The customers waited for Ruth Ann to wrap up her stand on guard for thees when suddenly she dropped a car ton bras sait porter l’êpêe on them. Good God, the thought flashed through 44,327 minds, that's French! Prolonged boos filled the sky, and the commotion over Ruth Ann’s French phrases didn’t die down for days.

It’s not just in Toronto, of course, that

sports events are the vehicle for these endless forays into anthem-playing nor is the song itself the end of it. The Canadian Football League’s commissioner’s office has issued instructions to the nine-member teams on how the players are to conduct themselves during the anthem: starting players are to stand on the 45-yard lines, each team facing the other, helmets cradled in the left arms. Non-starting players must line up along facing sidelines, also holding helmets in the approved manner.

Why is this? Why is it that football and baseball and hockey feel a compulsion to play the anthem? Is it patriotism, and if it is does it mean that golf tournaments and tennis tournaments and horse racing, among other professional sports, are unpatriotic because they decline to play it?

“In terms of rules and regulations I can’t tell you why we do it but I believe very strongly in it,” says J.G. (Jake) Gaudaur, the CFL commissioner. “This may sound pretty corny but I think

there are damned few things said or done to remind us we are one nation, and therefore it’s a good thing. We have 72 football games in a season so the playing of the anthem may seem repetitive, but rather than condemn that I suggest it might serve some purpose if it were done every day.”

It’s arguable, though, that the word “repetitive” is the key word in this era of long, long schedules and overlapping seasons. In the National Hockey League now, six Canadian cities have 40 home games each plus pre-season exhibitions and playoffs. In Toronto and Montreal there are 78 and 75 baseball dates respectively. For the majority of games there are two national anthems because U.S.-based teams are visitors.

“Not in my rink,” cries the not exactly introverted owner of the marauding Maple Leafs, Harold Ballard. “We don’t play the American anthem and, to be honest with you, I don’t know why we continue to play the Canadian one. I can’t see much sense in it these days. It’s a throwback to the war years, arousing patriotic spirit and all. People don’t come to the rink to hear an organ recital; they come to see a hockey game. Hell, if we played the American one, first thing you know, with all the boatloads of people coming over here, they’d be wanting theirs, too.” Steady, Harold.

In the U.S. they don’t have this problem. One Star-Spangled Banner gratifies all. Well, gratifies isn’t quite the word because it’s a fact that few songs are treated with less reverence by sports fans whatever songbird is tearing the old vocal chords to shreds on that anthem’s terrifying range of notes.

To judge by the reaction of the captive audiences at sports events, then, the promoters could do everybody a favor if they’d put a lid on the national anthem and somehow persuade the commissioner of the CFL that there must be an alternate route on the potholed ride to unity.