By Steve Williams

With the United States of America’s birthday, the Fourth of July, not too far behind us, it’s a good time of the year to bring up one of our oldest traditions in sports – the playing of our National Anthem.

As you know, for many, many years now, our Anthem has been played before the first pitch or opening kickoff or tipoff, or prior to the start of whatever the sporting event may be. We hear it at high school, college and professional games, and when we do, we know the game is about to begin.

It hasn’t always been that way. Watching “Baseball – A Film by Ken Burns,” a documentary I highly recommend to anyone who would enjoy watching the history of baseball and its growth through the decades, I recently learned the Star-Spangled Banner made its debut in the “seventh inning stretch” of the 1918 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs.

At this time in history, the United States was nearing victory in World War I. The playing of the Star-Spangled Banner that day stirred the patriotic fans on hand and really stole the show from the game itself. It would be played in every game in that World Series and at every game from that point on, which was years before the USA officially made Francis Scott Key’s battle song our National Anthem in 1931.

How do you spend those three minutes or so when our Anthem is playing? The first thing I do is remove my cap and put my hand over my heart. (It disappoints me that some public address announcers feel it necessary to remind the young men in the stands to do this, but that’s the world we live in.)

I’m ashamed I still don’t know all the words of our Anthem. Maybe one day I’ll take the time to learn them. As it is now, I may sing a few bars and hum through a few others or I may just listen.

I prefer when a soloist sings our Anthem in a conventional way and refrains from bringing attention to him or herself. I love it when a lady hits those high notes. And I was really impressed by the children’s choir that sang at Fort Bragg, N.C., when the Braves and Marlins played in front of the military. That was absolutely beautiful and baseball should do that more often.

Sometimes in those three minutes, I might count my blessings and say a little prayer. In the past, when I have officiated games, I’ve said a little prayer for me and my partners and asked Him to protect all those in the game from injury.

I’ve heard and read where some folks think the National Anthem should be stopped from being played at sporting events and that it’s a song that glorifies war and military action.

I see it as a way to salute our Armed Forces who are serving our country and protecting our freedom and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. I’ll take peace over war any day, but unfortunately we’re not all on the same page in this world in that regard and we need a strong defense when evil ways threaten our Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

Have you noticed like me that here lately Old Glory has been spending a lot of time waving at half-staff. It’s understandable when our Stars and Stripes have to be slowly lowered for natural disasters or deaths of great leaders in our country, but when man-made events take the lives of innocent human beings, it is a crying shame.

We have seen way too much of that in our country lately. It’s even gotten to the point that our country has reached out to respected sports figures to speak out for making better choices.

The recent racial unrest that led to innocent lives being lost is senseless. Maybe those in sports can help. After all, based on my observations, in this day and age, sports is one walk of life where people of different color get along with each other better than in any other. For the most part, they’re brothers or sisters on the same team and with the same purpose.

That’s the way it should be from sea to shining sea.