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Watching Olympic medal ceremonies last night, I noticed a Canadian and a Brit gold medal winner singing their respective national anthems, and did not see an American doing so. A Wall Street Journal report reveals that 21% of gold medal winners at Vancouver to date have sung their anthems, and another 18% have mumbled parts of them. Shaun White was busy pointing to the audience, raising his fists and playing air guitar during his ceremony — no singing included.

Of course, this raises the question of whether these athletes see themselves competing for their respective countries, or for themselves. In most cases, I suppose the realistic answer is: both. Also of course, only 60% of Americans know all the words to our own anthem — I thought I might be among the other 40%, but I just recited all the words to myself. But then again, I’m in my 60s.

Nationalism is a strong emotion, but then again, wars have been fought over such emotions, so whether nationalism is a “good” emotion is an open question, at least from certain perspectives. However, as long as the Olympics involves raising national flags and playing national anthems for the gold medalists, the gold medalists might at least demonstrate they can do as much as school children learn to do in every country when their national anthem is played — sing it. They are role models for youth, right?

February 2010

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