Nobody ever took a knee when John Amirante sang the National Anthem.
Maybe that’s because few people ever sang it the way he did, with respect, from the heart, his rich baritone voice embracing each word in the lyrics written so long ago by Francis Scott Key.
Key was the poet who scribbled the words on the back of an envelope as he watched the British attack on Fort McHenry on Sept. 12, 1812. The English, perhaps annoyed at the outcome of the American Revolution, were back on our shore committing mayhem and Key was impressed at the resilience of the American flag, battered by the barrage but nevertheless, still flying.
Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed …
Amirante was the voice who made that song his trademark in the many years he sang it before games at Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium and many other venues. He made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when he began the Anthem, the words carefully delivered with emotion and feeling.
By the time he got to the last line – with liberty and justice for all– the crowd would be roaring its approval. The Anthem Ace – that’s what his license plate read—had nailed it again.
Amirante once described the way he approached Key’s lyrics. “I let it flow,’’ he said. “I know exactly what I am singing. I know the meaning of every word, every line. I know the passion it must convey.’’
They seemed to be made for each other –this tribute to America’s flag and the humble man who sang it from his heart and his soul.
For years, the Anthem, its music adapted from an old English bar room ditty, was a ritual at sports events. The tradition began during the 1918 World Series when, in a burst of patriotism following World War I, it was played during the seventh inning stretch. It soon became part of the tapestry of sports in our country.
And then, it became wrapped in controversy.
When Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during its playing before a game in 2016, it set off a firestorm. Kap was disrespecting the flag critics complained in a din that reached all the way to the White House.
That was not Kaepernick’s intention at all. He just wanted to call attention to a drumbeat of racial strife that was tearing this country apart. Four years after his silent protest, the NFL acknowledged that it had not acted properly towards the knee protest, that Kaepernick was probably justified in taking that knee. The NFL’s 180 included a commitment to play the Black National Anthem titled “Lift Every Voice and Sing’’ before some games this season – if the coronavirus permits a season.
So maybe now things will change. Maybe now we will become a more compassionate country, a country that understands better the words Francis Scott Key wrote so many years ago and that John Amirante sang with such feeling so many years later.
And maybe now no one will feel a need to take a knee when it is played before a sporting event or, at any other time for that matter.
John Amirante would like that.