The unifying power of patriotic music in sports

If you are a passionate sports fan, then this period on the calendar is like an athletic utopia with endless possibilities on the landscape to satisfy your soul.

Between the playoff push in baseball and the triple play of high school, college and pro football, you don't have to feel guilty about vegetating in front of the tube as a couch potato instead of tending to those weekend chores.

However, this week is also filled with somber memories from the most horrific day in American history.

Seven years ago today, all the discussions of baseball magic numbers and rushing yards per carry were the last thing on anyone's mind as we tuned in to the surreal terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington D.C. and rural Pennsylvania.

On Monday, Sept. 10, all I could think about was the Mets trying to catch the Braves and the Giants losing the season opener that Sunday.

But on Tuesday at 8:46 a.m., I was stunned by the scenes of Lower Manhattan and thoughts of my friends who worked in the area near the World Trade Center.

In the hours, days and weeks that passed after Sept. 11, team and cultural allegiances were tossed aside as citizens from all walks of life united as one to help overcome the stinging pain of losing our national invincibility. As a remedy to heal this wound, there appeared to be an extra emphasis behind the singing of the "The Star Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful" at various events.

With its difficult arrangement and key changes, "The Star Spangled Banner" is not a song for the novice or musically challenged vocalist.

Many have tried and even more have failed to hit each note with clarity, but when it's done correctly, there isn't a dry eye or goose bump-free person in the stands as they sing along with pride.

Of all the various renditions I've heard, both in person and on TV, none can match the solo performances by Marvin Gaye at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game and Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV.

Marvin poured out his soul in his up tempo soulful version of the national anthem, much to the dismay of league and network officials.

According to reports, the corporate suits disapproved of his remix and wanted him to sing it in a more traditional style. However, Marvin was a stubborn kind of fellow and refused to compromise on his artistic creativity.

It's a good thing he held his ground as the final result proved to be sheer musical genius. Despite his crippling addiction to cocaine, Gaye belted out a timeless piece for the ages that still carries the same weight 25 years after the final note was sung.

His solo received new life and gained even greater admiration from today's youth when Nike laid his vocals down in their commercial promoting the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team.

Pop singer Houston was at the summit of her fame when she scored a big hit at Super Bowl XXV in Tampa.

Houston's pitch perfect vocals, combined with that angelic symphony orchestra in the background and the first war in the Persian Gulf, hit home with every American, even making 300-pound football players weep like infants. It was such a magical performance, they later released the version as a single with "America the Beautiful" on the B-side.

Both Gaye's and Houston's clips have also achieved legendary status as two of the darlings on youtube.com, receiving a total of 3,291,420 hits at deadline.

Since change is the buzz word in this year's presidential election, I propose a radical change by teaching these renditions as a part of the curriculum in school. I'd also eliminate other attempts and just play the video clip on the big screen at every sporting venue from high school to the grand stage of the Super Bowl.

What better way to unite the country than hearing the greatest versions of the national anthem.

(Rory Sharrock is a sportswriter for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at rsharrock@news-daily.com)