national anthem

A timeless Father's Day message from my late father about the National Anthem

A timeless Father's Day message from my late father about the National Anthem

In all my years of writing columns for The Oregonian and Portland Tribune, I didn’t make my family a part of my work very often.

I didn’t think it was right that they had to share their personal life in public just for the sake of my column once in a while. I always thought there were better things to write about that were less exploitive of my own family.

But since today is Father’s Day and memories of how my late father would have reacted to what’s going on in the world today seem relevant, I figured maybe it is time to write about Bill Jaynes.

My dad has been gone for years now, but I believe everyone who ever met him still treasures his memory. He was one of those men who brightened every room he walked into -- a good man whose word was his bond and his handshake was his contract.

He worked for decades for the Southern Pacific Railroad and Amtrak as a conductor on freight and passenger trains. Worked long and hard.

He managed to find the money somehow to buy both his sons brand-new cars of their choice when they graduated from college and spoiled his grandchildren with his attention. No matter their activities, he was there in the front row to support them.

"Everybody has 'grandpa stories,'" my daughter said Sunday. "I loved him so much."

He was a veteran of World War II, but didn’t talk a whole lot about the experience. I remember his frequent lament that he was shipped off from his base in St. Louis to Europe just a week before the one and only “All-St. Louis” World Series in 1944 and how sad he was to have to miss those games after watching the Cardinals and Browns play all season. And he would speak with tears in his eyes of how it felt to watch some of the New Yorkers sob as their ship passed the Statue of Liberty on its way to war. "They could almost see their house," he would say.

Mostly, though, he would entertain us with stories of his time in Germany and Belgium, painting himself as something of a WWII version of Sgt. Bilko.

He loved his country and was a staunch union man, as were most of the people who worked alongside him on the railroad. He loved sports, his family and his job. And he was a man strong enough that, in his 70s, he bought a backpack, some plane tickets and headed out alone to retrace his steps in the war, in France, Belgium and Germany.

Politics? They usually had a way of raising his blood pressure.

He always stood up for the “little guy” and loved Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, whom he corresponded with on several occasions. That meant he was solidly against the war in Viet Nam, as, of course, was Morse.

He would very often take my brother and me to sports events, most often Portland Beaver games.

But he would usually start those evenings very agitated. And my brother has the same memories of it that I do. My dad, who served this country in its biggest war, was very much against playing the National Anthem before sporting events.

“It makes no sense,” he would say. “They don’t play it before movies or plays or concerts or other things -- why sports?

“I’m sitting here in a cold, damp ballpark with rain dripping off my cap, listening to somebody attempt to sing a song that most people can’t come close to getting right. Why? Why are we doing this? It doesn’t honor the country. It’s not respectful. And look at the poor pitcher out there -- he’s just warmed up, he’s ready to go and now he’s standing there with his cap off as somebody forgets the words to a song.”

And believe me, my father wasn’t angered because he was personally inconvenienced by time wasted or the chilly weather.

He just felt that it was a case of sports teams wrapping themselves up in the flag in order to make themselves look more patriotic -- or to pander to service veterans.

And he just wasn’t having it.

“This doesn’t honor the country or the flag,” he said to me later, when we were adults attending a game. “It’s just wrong. It makes very little sense. It's played so often and so poorly many times that it loses meaning. And people aren’t paying attention. Look around -- they aren’t affected by it."

I’m not sure how my father would have felt about players kneeling during the anthem, but I have a feeling he’d be supportive of their right to do so.

But more to the point, I think he’d probably just offer a suggestion that the anthem be saved for the Super Bowl, first game of the World Series and no other games.

And I know he would have been supportive of the players' right to peacefully demonstrate anyplace where their message wouldn’t get wrapped up in an irrelevant controversy about the flag and the national anthem.

He would probably look at it as an opportunity to point out that a song before a ballgame is no measure of anyone’s love of country or their patriotism. It’s just a song that people hear so frequently it’s often rendered as background noise.

My dad loved his country, you see, but he didn't always love its government. And he wasn't afraid to say so.

We miss you, Dad.

Is sitting out the anthem worse than never showing it on TV?

Is sitting out the anthem worse than never showing it on TV?

Colin Kaepernick chose to sit down for the national anthem last weekend and you can find his reasons here. But I would like to add some thoughts about his action:

  • Obviously, Kaepernick is free to express himself in this way as long as he's willing to accept the consequences of his act -- which he seems to understand. We have been waiting for athletes to return to their role as activists for years and when one comes along, we cannot then condemn them for it.
  • My father was a proud veteran of World War II but had some interesting thoughts about the playing of the anthem prior to just about every athletic event he ever attended. "It cheapens it." he said. "We're standing in the rain among a crowd of a few hundred people at a minor-league baseball game and somebody who can't sing is trying to get through one of the most difficult songs anyone has ever had to sing. It's disrespectful. Play the song on opening day and before the first game of the World Series and that's good enough."
  • So is it worse to sit down during the anthem or to hide it? Watch just about any of your favorite baseball, basketball or football teams' games on television and try to find the rendition of the anthem. Same thing on the radio. Almost every time it's not shown or heard. TV and radio broadcasts generally "cover" the anthem with commercial breaks just prior to the game. And many of you don't even notice. So is the anthem THAT important? If it is, where is the outrage over not getting to see it on TV or hear it on the radio?
  • Kaepernick's action was anything but new. I can recall in the late 1960s and early '70s I'd see entire sections of a grandstand sitting during the anthem at college basketball games, when activism was much higher on campuses than it is now. Those fans made their statement and that was fine.
  • In general, players and fans pay little attention to the anthem. I know what it stands for -- we all do. It is a statement. But when you make a strong statement, you should always expect someone to take issue with it. And if you make that same statement before 162 baseball games or 16 football games or 82 basketball games, isn't it only natural for people to begin to take it for granted? Kaepernick's sit-down sparked a whole lot of thought about the anthem again.
  • Do they play the anthem before your job starts every day? I doubt it. They don't play it prior to movies, either. For some reason, sports have always wrapped themselves in the flag. It's not always appropriate.
  • I really don't think Kaepernick's actions meant he had no respect for the military and its veterans. It does him a disservice to try to turn this into a condemnation of people who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
  • Ultimately, Kaepernick's tenure with the 49ers will last only as long as he can ably man the quarterback position. So far, that doesn't look like a long time. In fact, it's possible that the conversation he started will last longer than his career.