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Anthems, prayer are meaningful part of sports

by Brendan Gaughan

To start, I would like to say that as a former college athlete and someone who still considers himself very athletic, one of the most exciting times for me is the Olympics. I really enjoy watching true athleticism and, for the most part, pure sport.

For me personally, one of the greatest things during the games is our national anthem. I love to watch the true emotion during the few minutes it takes to play this song at the Olympics, or anywhere for that matter. With or without the words, true tears of joy are visible in most eyes.

I grew up playing sports. Even back then, we were accustomed to hearing the national anthem prior to our competition, whatever the sport may have been. To this day, I still become teary-eyed before every race, and, yes, there have been times when the anthem has been butchered, but the meaning remains the same.

Accompanying the anthem at the race, we will have a flyover, as if the anthem wasnít enough to remind me of the men and women who are fighting overseas to protect our freedoms here in our homeland. For me, there are very real visions in my thoughts as I hear the song because I have visited with the troops in the unsafe areas of Iraq. I have seen injured men and women who have refused to come home because their jobs were not done.

Can you believe it? They said they could not come home and rest knowing that their job was not completed because the serious threat of terrorists still exists. Amazing! The national anthem brings to mind our country and the great people who live here in the "Melting Pot." Many different nationalities represent the United States of America. Along with the various nationalities comes religion. I attended Catholic schools and prior to the games, just before the anthem, was a prayer. Prayer is a part of sport for me.

A blessing for the players is important to many. Players are represented in many different forms. In racing, players are represented by drivers, team members, NASCAR officials, medics, safety workers, track workers, fans, etc. Anyone who attends a race is a player, in his or her own right.

While I do not practice Catholicism regularly, I do still bow my head and say thank you to God for my abilities. At the same time, I am thanking my God for the men and women fighting for our country and the other players surrounding me.

At the end of the prayer I say, "Amen." At some tracks, following the prayer "Amen" is followed with "Shalom." Can you believe that? "Amen" and "Shalom" together in harmony; the acknowledgment that more than one religion is represented at our events.

While listening to the anthem, I sometimes try to envision the thoughts of Francis Scott Key while he wrote that great song. Could he have envisioned what it would feel like to stand on an Olympic podium and hear the anthem played in his honor? Could he envision Paul Hamm making a miraculous comeback in gymnastics and crying while listening to this, his song? Maybe not, but it still sends chills through my body just to be able to watch and listen.

Recently, a fan wrote to NASCAR Scene and stated that he did not like having to listen to the prayer delivered before the races. He wrote, "Fortunately, with change comes diversity." This country was built on diversity: race, religion, nationality, etc., together with acceptance. Diversity was the invention of the mute button on the remote or a volume button on the radio. Or maybe he canít figure out how to operate these functions.

This person must not use currency printed by the United States Treasury. If he does, then he must be offended that all currency printed in the U.S. clearly states "In God We Trust," because our country was built with a belief in a higher power.

Just in case the point was missed, I will say it again: Diversity is acceptance of variety. It is visible during the Olympic Games when all nations come together to compete. Why canít we all just get along?

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