Ethics Quiz: National Anthem Ethics

You can’t really blame Frank Drebin for massacring “The Star Spangled Banner” in “The Naked Gun”—after all, he had to impersonate an opera singer so he could get on the field and protect Queen Elizabeth from being assassinated by Reggie Jackson. Rosanne Barr’s rendition, however…

…was something else again, an obnoxious, deliberate and unfunny insult by any ethical standards.

But what is your ethics verdict on this rendition of the National Anthem sprung as a surprise on the packed Busch Stadium in St. Louis, when the Cardinals’ veteran starting pitcher of 17 years, Adam Wainwright, now entering his final season, stepped to the microphone in uniform on Opening Day and sang…

…one of the most off-key, pitch-shaky versions of the song ever heard outside of a saloon, or “The Naked Gun”?

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is it ethical to sing the National Anthem as a solo in public when you can’t do it well?

I know my answer: no. I got all choked up when I started to watch the video; it was undeniably a cool and brave thing for Wainwright to do for his home fans. But it took me three tries to get through it: even with accompaniment (the guitars were a warning that Wainwright knew he had serious pitch problems), he was all over the place, sharp, flat, often just the wrong notes entirely. Yes, Adam was sincere, and the fans loved it, though coming from Wainwright, Frank Drebin’s version would have been cheered too.

Good intentions aren’t enough. If you presume to do an important job, and singing the National Anthem in a ball park with 40,000 people standing and showing respect for the flag is one, then you better be qualified. Adam Wainwright isn’t. This was Rationalization #11, The King’s Pass all the way.

Just four seasons ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Steven Brault, nowhere near as good a pitcher as Wainwright but a much better singer with some professional experience, opened a game with a “Star Spangled Banner” that, while a little pitchy (he is a pitcher, after all), was still sufficiently competent to qualify as ethical:

And he didn’t kneel, either.



20 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: National Anthem Ethics

  1. I am at a point where if someone is willing to sing the anthem with pride no matter how awful he may be then I will grant them a pass.

    Now the question is was it ethical for someone to put another in front of an audience not knowing if the person could do the song justice? To that I would say no. It is unethical to put someone in that position. The choice would make the person look bad either way. If he turned down the role he would be criticized for being unwilling and if he does he gets criticized for his performance.

  2. Not sayin’ that this is an appropriate solution in the US of A, but here’s how the ChiComs handle such situations:

    Whoever deliberately alters the lyrics or the score of the national anthem, or performs or sings the national anthem in a deliberately distorted or derogatory manner, or insults the national anthem in any other manner, in a public venue, is to be warned or detained for up to 15 days by the public security organs; criminal responsibility is pursued where a crime is constituted.

    Source: Article 15, National Anthem Law of the PRC


    Slightly off-topic. During the anti-COVID lockdown protests in Shanghai last spring, protesters used the first line of the PRC National Anthem (“”Rise up, people who don’t want to be slaves”) as a hashtag to criticize the lockdowns.

    Of course it didn’t take long for the ChiComs to scrub that “misuse” of their National Anthem from the Internet.

  3. No.

    Do what you do well. If a person can’t sing, then he/she should sing the National Anthem – belt it out, loud and proud – in private. As much as the National Anthem is mocked and denigrated now, those who still value it want it sung well. I appreciate Adam’s sincerity, but yeah, not too good. What’s more, Wainwright’s performance took the chance away from someone that can sing it well.

    One final note: As a long-time Braves fan, I still get angry at former GM John Schuerholz’s decision to trade Adam Wainwright (then our best pitching prospect) to St. Louis for a one-year rental of J.D. Drew (a Scott Boras client). That trade was probably the second-worst trade in Braves history as I know it. He could have sung the National Anthem badly…in a Braves uniform.

      • Braves fans will never forget that – along with the worst trade (dealing Brett Butler and Brook Jacoby for Len Barker – way back in ’83 I think). Ted Turner was a wealthy man, but a moron as an owner. As to that record, I only ran across that bit of history this morning when looking up Wainy’s stats on Baseball Reference (I couldn’t remember if he was a Cy Young Award winner).

        A great mark of longevity for both Wainy and Molina.

  4. NOTE FROM THE MODERATOR: With this attempted but rejected comment, A Friend sets the all-time record for defying Ethics Alarms rules and repeatedly posting comments after 1) banning himself after threatening to do so 2) being informed that self-banning is permanent absent a sincere and acceptable apology and, 3) being informed that repeatedly trying to sneak in comments after self-banning is itself a demonstration of disrespect for the forum and a refusal to abide by the commenting moderation practices here.

    This is an impressive record to set, because the previous record-holder was one of the biggest jerks ever to visit here, and as I consider this kind of defiance strong evidence of jerkdom of the highest water, I would not have expected A Friend to be the record-holder. It’s also a shame in this case, because the topic in this case is one in which he has genuine expertise, and his opinion would be enlightening.

  5. Here’s an ethics quiz I’d be interested in (sorry, in which I’d be interested). Was Jimi Hendrix rendition of The Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock ethical?

  6. I have been a Cardinals fan since my grandmother sat me down in front of her black and white TV to watch the first game of the 1968 World Series. Bob Gibson became my childhood and lifelong sports hero that day. He struck out 17 Tigers, still a World Series record. But we lost the Series in 7 to Detroit. [I’m sorry I was too young to see the Cards beat your Red Sox in ’67, Jack! But you have since had your revenge. Twice, I might add.]
    Anyway, at the risk of being categorized as “Bias makes you stupid” – Although I cringe easy at such moments, Adam Wainwright is a fiercely competitive but stand-up human being. A class act on and off the field. He is a beloved fan favorite. I feel he has as much right as anyone to sing the Anthem in the Cardinals home field venue where he is adored.
    My reasoning – He essentially was singing in his house with a bunch of his friends gathered around.
    And I have to tell you, there are many times I don’t think alleged professional singers do such a good job with The Anthem. Pretty tough tune to sing!
    Dang, I just went back and re-read what I wrote, and I realize, it has The King’s Pass all over it! Oh well.

    • You get bonus points for recognizing that, but “He essentially was singing in his house with a bunch of his friends gathered around” is right on the cusp between a rationalization and a valid point: I bet that’s how Adam looked at it. You also nicked #22 (“it’s not the worst thing”). Still, a good comment.

      • Speaking of the Star Spangled Banner – Last night before the start of the first Final Four basketball game between San Diego State and Florida Atlantic, the announcer actually said, “Would all those willing and able, please rise for the singing of our National Anthem…”
        Willing? As in, condoning not standing for the National Anthem? What is the matter with the spineless NCAA?

  7. I am on the fence here. Wainright is not a singer (well . . . d’uh!) but the Star Spangled Banner is ridiculously hard to sing, even for professionals. The French, Canadian, Mexican and British anthems are much easier.

    Did he do a good job? Well, not really. But, was his intention to sing it with respect? It sure looks like it to me. I am thinking his performance, such as it was, is ethical.

    It is the national anthem and it belongs to everyone, and it is not confined or limited to professionals. He was asked to sing it in this stadium during the beginning of the baseball season. He wasn’t at the Met or at a formal gathering where a certain decorum is expected. I think he was ethical even though he didn’t succeed.

    Yeah, he tried and didn’t do a great job but, considering the amount of other artists, singers, and professionals who butcher it with extended warbling vocalizations and obnoxious “countrifide” faux accents who carry whole notes out for 78 measures – I think Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey set records for the longest sustained notes – I would rather listen to him any day of the week.

    As for Hendrix, yes. His version was ethical primarily because he is Jimi Hendrix and could make a bag of noodles sound amazing (yep, a shining example of the King’s Pass right there but sometimes you get an ethical pass because of who you are). Woodstock was an interesting cultural event and a popular music festival. Nobody expected Hendrix to come out early in the morning and simply blow the minds of the audience and set a new floor for guitarists. Remember that, at the time, Hendrix was well respected by musicians (Beck, Clapton, Page, Harrison, Townsend, and a host of other guitarists in the mid-to-late 1960s who were also writing the vocabularly for modern rock guitar) but not widely known until Woodstock. At Woodstock the world woke up and took notice. His star burned out far too brightly and fast but what a legacy.


  8. I, too, listened to it three times, but experienced none of the difficulties that you all had with it. He has a pleasant, though undeveloped, voice. His rendition WAS uncomfortably slow and “draggy” , and I don’t know why. Perhaps someone advised him to take it slow to counteract the “echo effect” some venues have.

    When I was a child, we had a small black and white TV and only my dad was allowed to touch it. One Sunday afternoon I asked him if I could watch “Lassie” at 4:00, and he complied. —( Timmy fell into another damn well, Lassie went back home and barked, everyone there knew that this meant that he had fallen into another damn well, so they saved him. End of story)— At the conclusion of the show my dad was unavailable to turn OFF the TV, so for the next 30 minutes I was treated to “Brother Somebody or Other ” preaching a lesson on acceptable dress in church. God demands a suit and tie, just “the best you got” will never be good enough to enter the hallowed halls. My thoughts went to an old man I had recently seen at a graveside service. In his freshly washed overalls, and the best shirt he owned, he would surely be turned away at any service, funeral, or wedding that “Brother Somebody” officiated at. He should go pay his respects someplace where decent folks don’t have to see him.

    I don’t follow baseball at all, (just too many games to keep track of), so I don’t know who Adam Wainwright is, but he seems to be genuine, and honestly proud to be singing the anthem. His performance might be more appropriate at an assembly on some aircraft carrier, or at an airbase in some foreign war zone where our troops are stationed. It might pass muster at one of the hundreds of Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day observations. It might be good enough for one of the thousands of “hometown” sporting events that Americans flock to. BUT, to attempt this where people with backgrounds in music might have to endure it? –NEVER

    Adam Wainwright is simply what Americans sound like, (sorry).

    Rule #11 ends with: “Playing the hands you are dealt as well as possible should never be penalized or punished, but for those who are dealt winning hands to convince themselves and attempt to convince others that their good fortune proves their special virtue and merit is obnoxious and foolish.”

    Just curious, but, would this apply to musical expertise as well?

  9. This raises a similar but, IMO, much worse issue: anthem singers who don’t bother to learn the anthem. I don’t recall it ever happening with The Star Spangled Banner but it happens occasionally with O Canada, when a Canadian team plays in the USA. In fact, it happened about a week ago, when the Maple Leafs played in Florida. The singer was counting on the lyrics being shown on the scoreboard but they weren’t.

    It was still better than the time the Vegas lounge singer turned our anthem into a Bizarro world version of Oh Christmas Tree.

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