The playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before sporting events has been a tradition going back to the 19th century. While there have always been political issues dividing this country, playing the national anthem before athletic contests was never an issue per se.

Obviously there have been controversies. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during its playing after winning medals for track & field during the 1968 Summer Olympics. Jose Feliciano performed a wonderful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Detroit before the third game of the 1968 World Series between the Cardinals and Tigers, but his melody line, while quite likable, was radically different from the chords and notes written by Francis Scott Key. Many at the time foolishly interpreted Feliciano’s version as disrespectful. The uproar ruined his career as radio stations stopped playing his records. Over the years most, including Major League Baseball, have realized the unfortunate harm caused to Feliciano and have come to appreciate the beauty of his version. The Tigers invited Feliciano to perform the anthem at Comerica Park in 2018 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his initial performance of it in the Motor City.

A more recent controversy came when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the anthem during games in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Many NBA players emulated him after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban brought the national anthem back into the sports pages last week when he unilaterally decided Mavericks home games would be played without “The Star-Spangled Banner.” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, knowing this was a needless PR headache, quickly interceded and declared every team must play it before games. Some conservative pundits tried to portray Cuban as the NBA’s version of George Soros but that’s fallacious. Cuban is a centrist who has criticized both reactionaries and woke types in interviews over the years. His rationale was the anthem isn’t played before concerts, theatrical productions and movie screenings, so why do it for sporting events?

I have no problem with the playing of the anthem before athletic contests. Aside from tradition and patriotism, it gives many unknown artists a chance to perform before a big crowd. In New York it has served as a promotional opportunity for the casts of Broadway shows to bring attention to their theatrical productions.

If someone doesn’t want to stand, or chooses to use that time to grab a bite before the game starts, that’s fine. Hey, it’s a free country.

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The Mets signed a pair of free agents last week, centerfielder Albert Almora Jr. and infielder Jonathan Villar. While both players are bona fide big leaguers, you can easily understand why Mets fans were hoping to see bigger names on their beloved team’s roster. These are the kinds of economically sensible but ultimately low-impact free agent signings Mets fans were accustomed to for years when the Wilpons were the owners.

Seth Lugo, who has suffered from a balky right elbow in recent years, will be out of action until May as he recovers from surgery for the removal of a bone spur. I hope Lugo will have the arm strength to either pitch in relief in consecutive games or be able to go deep into games he starts, which has not been the case in quite a while.

Life and style

Actor Tyler Hoechlin, who stars as the Man of Steel in CW’s “Superman & Lois,” which debuts Tuesday, was a star college player at the University of California at Irvine. He was considered a major league prospect until hamstring injuries forced him to give up that dream.

This latest incarnation of the Superman saga deals with such contemporary issues as wealth inequality and billionaire hedge fund owners who buy newspapers for personal aggrandizement or who do it in the hopes of making a quick buck by firing reporters and destroying quality journalism in the hopes of making a quick buck.

Surfing will be getting some long overdue attention this spring when HBO Sports debuts a six-part series on Garrett McNamara, who never backed down from anything the ocean threw at him. “100 Foot Wave” examines his quest to conquer the dangerous Atlantic Ocean currents off Nazare, Portugal, where nearly every surfer wipes out. The announcement was made last week at the Winter 2021 CTAM (Cable Television Association & Marketing) Press Tour. The documentary will run on both HBO’s cable network and its HBO Max streaming service.

There was a lot of other television news to come out of the first week of the two-week CTAM winter press tour.

Former ESPN “Sportscenter” anchor and current “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts has become a producer of television specials under her “Robin Roberts Presents” banner. Her upcoming project is a dramatization of the life of arguably the best-known gospel singer of all-time, Mahalia Jackson, which will air on the Lifetime Network on April 3.

Discovery Networks’ Animal Planet has proven to be quite profitable so it’s not surprising competitors want to strip it of some of its market share.

Nat Geo will be launching “Critter Fixers: Country Vets,” which follows the partnership practice of a pair of African-American veterinarians, Drs. Terrence Ferguson and Vernard Hodges in rural Georgia. Hodges told me he was inspired to become a vet from watching “Wild Kingdom,” which used to air late Sunday afternoons on NBC during the 1960s.

 Nascent BYU tv will be rolling out the cleverly-titled “The Wizard of Paws” which follows the career of animal prosthetist Derrick Campana who is able to give pets and other animals who have lost extremities through illness or accident a chance to have a better quality of life. 

      Discovery Plus, the streaming service launched last month, is showcasing less cuddly creatures, with “Attack of the Murder Hornets” which debuts Saturday, February 20. 

      Also coming from Discovery Plus is “Luda Can’t Cook” starring actor/hip-hop artist/entrepreneur Chris “Ludacris” Bridges who is hoping to go from kitchen greenhorn to respected chef by the time the series ends.

     HBO Now is the streaming service Warner Media launched last Memorial Day. Its biggest selling point for subscribers so far is showing Warner Brothers movies as “Wonder Woman 1984" and “Judas and the Black Messiah” the same time they are being released to theaters. HBO Now is creating television series for their streaming service and will not air on the HBO cable network. A case in point is an upcoming R-rated high school show, “Genera+ions” which is set in conservative Anaheim, California. 

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