Debating Propriety of Yelling “Oh” during the Star-Spangled Banner


Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise recently criticized the Baltimore custom of shouting “OH” during the National Anthem at ballgames:

Orioles fans are not alone in their desecration of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” of course. Many of their tainted gene pool have migrated to Verizon Center for Capitals games. Some of these louts actually yell “OH!” and “RED!” at different intervals — twice ruining the anthem. Their spawn can be found in Houston, too, where a small group called “The Red Rowdies” holler “ROCK-ETS RED GLARE!” during Rockets NBA games. And they wonder why Tracy McGrady never won a playoff series.

Here’s wishing famine and pestilence comes to all their tailgates.

Allow me one serious, high-horse moment: Look, you’re not unpatriotic if you yell “OH!” It doesn’t make you an awful American. But by claiming the lyrics, if only for a moment, you fundamentally undermine the idea that the song was written to unite instead of divide. A national anthem is a national anthem, not a convenient vehicle for one’s immense pride in his or her team.

As a Baltimore native, I took umbrage with this dismissal of a tradition rooted in history and The Washington Post, to its eternal credit published my response:

Mike Wise argued that the tradition of Orioles fans shouting “Oh” during the national anthem at ball games taints a moment of patriotic unity with parochial fandom. Further, he lamented that the fans of other teams have begun to adopt similar practices. On the second point, Mr. Wise’s argument has much merit. But it is entirely appropriate for Baltimore fans to adapt “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

An also-ran among the great cities of the eastern seaboard, Baltimore (my place of birth) is a modest, homely and provincial city. But, in September 1814, with Washington smoldering and the United States itself in peril, Baltimore fought off the British and upheld the nation’s honor, inspiring Francis Scott Key to pen “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The national anthem should be a source of unity, and the rest of the nation should also join in saluting this Baltimore custom in deference to the service of that otherwise humble city.

It is worth adding that it really was the city of Baltimore that repelled the British. Fort McHenry was built by the citizens of Baltimore. James McHenry, for whom the fort is named, was a former Secretary of War who spearheaded the fundraising drive. When they learned the British were coming, citizens of Baltimore built makeshift fortifications to defend their city and the soldiers manning Fort McHenry were, for the most part, local militia.

I’ve written about Fort McHenry, which has a long and fascinating history post-War of 1812 before, it is an especially nice place to spend Memorial Day and even better with kids.

I hope my enthusiasm rubs off, I am kind of a dork about visiting forts – I even love to visit the ruins of forts, which abound in the DC area.

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