AT LAST WEEK'S White House press conference, the question was raised as to whether the president thought the playing of the "National Anthem" at every "trashy football game" and baseball game, and boxing and wrestling match, degraded the song. The interrogator apologized for what might have sounded like a frivolous concern, but the president responded with truth and magnanimity that the question was no more frivolous than some he had heard before. He then went on to state that the frequent playing of the "National Anthem" did not, in his judgement, degrade it; that in fact, whenever he hears it played, he is stirred with "intense feelings of patriotism and a realization of what our nation stands for." This is both commendable and true. The nation alwasy stands for the "National Anthem."
What Mr. Carter may not have realized, however, was that, in defending the playing the "National Anthem" at sports events, he was at the same time entering a general and ferocious argument about the "National Anthem" that has been bursting in air ever since the anthem was made national in 1931. That argument was revived in this paper as recently as eight years ago by novelist James M. Cain, when he reported a debate between George London, then artistic director of the Kennedy Center, and Sen. Charles McC. Mathias, then and now, of Maryland. In the debate, Mr. Mathias conceded that he could not sing, but nevertheless defended the anthem for its inspriational qualities. Mr. London, who evidently could sing, and did, swore that he could only sing the "National Anthem" properly when "loaded"-that particular battle being over whether or not the son is singable.
Mr. Cain himself contended that the reason everyone has such trouble singing the anthem is that it is always pitched too high, having been written in the key of C. If, wrote Mr. Cain, the anthem were sung in A-flat instead, there would be no problems. That, unfortunately, is not so, for only part of the fury that regularly to the music. There have been fist fights over the words as well, which are bellicose, to say the lease, and which many people outside Fort McHenry find more than a trifle corny.
Naturally, we do not take sides in these matters (though we sing very well indeed, and have no trouble dealing with any key, including Frances Scott). Our concern is solely that the president has more than enough involvements in hot controversies. As for the original question, whether or not the anthem ought to be played at sports events: Why not? At our own local football games of late, for example the playing of the anthem has been the high point of the afternoon.