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Just say no to the ‘O’

I like tradition as much as the next guy, but not all traditions are created equal. There is one peculiar tradition that precedes Duke athletic contests that toes the line between distasteful and embarrassing.

No, I’m not talking about Tailgate again.

I’m talking about the tradition of shouting “O!” during the national anthem. This shout occurs before every Duke game (most noticeably men’s basketball and football, but increasingly at other sports) when the singers or the band reach “O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave,” the penultimate line of the national anthem.

This tradition is not unique to Duke—in fact, it didn’t even start here. The first “O” is credited to a Baltimore Orioles fan in the 1970s named “Wild” Bill Hagy. The practice spread to other Baltimore-area teams and is now a mainstay at Washington Capitals, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens games. If you check the tapes and listen closely, you can even hear a faint “O” during the anthem at Barack Obama’s inauguration. Somewhere along the line, the tradition traveled down to Durham with some Baltimore-area students, and spread from the Cameron Crazies into the upper bowl of Cameron Indoor Stadium.

And the “O” isn’t the only anthem interruption you’ll hear at sporting events in this country. If a team’s nickname is mentioned in the song, you can be sure that word will be emphasized by the crowd mid-anthem. At the University of Virginia, it’s “HOOS broad stripes and bright stars” in support of their unofficial mascot, the Wahoos. For hockey fans in Dallas, it’s “broad stripes and bright STARS.” Dozens of teams across the country latch on to “the rockets’ RED glare,” and Atlanta, of course, is the “home of the BRAVES.”

Perhaps Baltimore is the city most entitled to reinvigorate the anthem. It’s their song, anyway—Francis Scott Key wrote “Defence of Fort McHenry,” the poem whose words would become the lyrics to the anthem, about the Battle of Baltimore. Also, the “O” at least fits the pattern above when applied to the Orioles.

You might not think this practice is all that offensive, and I’m pretty sure that no one intends malice towards the U.S. when they belt out the “O.” If you really wanted to, you could even make a case that the anthem itself needs to be changed to something less militaristic and easier to sing.

But I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t like the “O.” The debate over the shout’s place in Cameron Indoor Stadium has graced The Chronicle’s edit pages before.

On Jan. 20 of this year, James Tager, Trinity ’09, said that “even our national anthem, which is supposed to transcend the daily realities of one university, is turned into yet another call-sign for Dukie pride... when we’re in Cameron, we become Crazies first, and everything else second.”

Gregory Beaton, Trinity ’08, wrote a Duke Athletics wishlist Dec. 4, 2007, which included a “policy banning the ‘O’ during the national anthem,” arguing that “it has nothing to do with Duke and is at least somewhat disrespectful to the spirit of the moment. We’d all be better off without it.”

And my personal favorite comes from a Letter to the Editor way back on Jan. 21, 1997. Glen Godwin, Divinity ’98, writes, “The anthem is not just a song like ‘Yankee Doodle’ or ‘99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.’ The anthem pays homage to the flag that represents the courageous efforts of our ancestors to grant us rights like freedom of speech.”

Still need a little convincing before you drop the “O?” The next time you’re at a Men’s Basketball game in Cameron, I want you to watch Coach K during the anthem. Watch how he stands—eyes fixated on the flag, right hand strongly over his heart, perfectly still. It’s a testament to his U.S. Army background and his respect for this nation and its symbols.

To my knowledge, Coach K has never asked the Crazies to stop yelling “O,” but I believe his actions speak louder than words. If the “O” isn’t good enough for Coach K, then it isn’t good enough for me either.

A new basketball season is upon us, and with it comes the opportunity for a fresh start. Consider whether or not this tradition is one worth upholding.

Bradford Colbert is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Monday.

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