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All-Star Games are supposed to be entertaining, fun, perhaps even uplifting. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Take Tuesday night’s ceremony before the MLB All-Star tilt.
"I’m not a big All-Star game guy in the first place, but I had just happened to turn on the broadcast as the Tenors began to sing 'O Canada,'" says Morgan Campbell. He's a sports business reporter for the Toronto Star, and while he might not be a fan of All-Star games, he is a fan of National Anthems.
"I come from a family of musicians. So I pay close attention to national anthems, and even when I used to cover baseball, like when that was my beat, we’d be in on Twitter, every night. I would talk about or kind of review the national anthem and kind of give it a rating."
The Canadian anthem rendition with the worst rating hadn't changed for decades — at least not until Tuesday night.
"Twenty-two years ago, the CFL had teams in the United States and there was a game in Las Vegas, and this Las Vegas lounge singer gets out there and sings 'O Canada,'" Campbell recalls. "It was clear that this was his first time ever singing the song. He was reading the lyrics off a music stand, and basically sang 'O Canada' to the tune of 'O Christmas Tree,' right?"
"So we all thought, ‘This is the worst rendition of 'O Canada' you will ever hear.’ He’s been topped by these guys, and obviously the Nickelback jokes write themselves."
So what happened to drop the 'Oh, Christmas Tree' version of 'O' Canada' to number two?
"Here’s the thing about the Canadian national anthem... it’s in two languages. There’s an English version and a French version, and what a lot of people do is sing the first stanza in English and then they’ll switch to the French anthem for a couple stanzas, and then go back to English, which is what, I can tell, in retrospect, the Tenors had planned on doing. But the other thing that’s happening in Canada is that there’s a move to update one of the lyrics. There’s a part in the anthem where it says, 'True patriot love in all thy sons command.' And that’s, you know, not inclusive of women. So the move now is to move that lyric to, 'True patriot love in all of us command.' So when I first started hearing unfamiliar lyrics I thought maybe he was switching to the updated lyrics."
"And then I really listened to what he was saying and I saw him hold up the sign, and he said 'all lives matter,' and I thought to myself, 'This is not good.'"
"So you knew right away and immediately took to Twitter?" I ask.
"Yeah, and I haven't…I really haven’t stopped since then," Campbell says.
"You know, when I first heard it, I didn’t know if Major League Baseball had endorsed this, let alone if the other members of the band had endorsed this," Campbell says.
"Those three words, they seem so simple, but in that context, as a Canadian listening to someone take it upon themselves to change the lyrics to your anthem. And then as an African American to hear the phrase 'all lives matter,' which has become this rallying cry for all types of racists and bigots. To insult as many people as possible on as many levels as possible with as few words as possible, they did a really good job."
Throughout the game, tweets flew. It soon became apparent that the change in lyrics was not approved by Major League Baseball…nor was it approved by three-quarters of the four Tenors. The group, less one, apologized, via Twitter, of course.
The three remaining tenors said that Remigio Pereira had acted alone, and would not be performing with the group again "until further notice."
"You know, a lot of people will just kind of parrot that phrase without realizing how much baggage it has," Campbell says. "When a guy gets an assault rifle and walks into an elementary school and kills 26 kids, you don’t hear these guys saying 'all lives matter,' right? When thousands, literally thousands, of Americans have to declare bankruptcy over medical bills, and die, because they’re not insured, you don’t hear these guys saying 'all lives matter.' But when a black person is killed extra-judicially by a police officer, unarmed, and we say 'Hey, black lives matter. Our lives are as important as your lives, so treat us that way,' all of a sudden these guys come jump up and say, 'all lives matter,' which is how this phrase has picked up this baggage."
Campbell understands that not everyone's aware of that baggage. Among those apparently unaware is tenor Remigio Pereira, who took to Twitter as well, saying that his "singular motivation" was to make "a positive statement that would bring us ALL together." "ONE LOVE," he wrote in all caps.
In Tuesday night's events, Campbell saw echoes of another protest on one of sports' biggest stages.
In 1968, sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos took to the Olympic medal stand and raised their black-gloved fists during the national anthem, protesting the treatment of African Americans back home.
"Carlos and Smith understood that taking a stand for Black Americans’ rights, on the medal podium, in Mexico City, was gonna make a lot of people angry," Campbell says. "Whereas this guy here from the Tenors really thought he was going to bring people together with his brave display, and you can see how proud of himself he was. You can see it on his face that he thinks he’s gonna wind up on these t-shirts, like John Carlos and Tommie Smith. He may not have understood the heat that those guys caught when they did that in 1968, but he thinks this is going to be some brilliant, unifying moment. I don’t have a problem with someone trying to unify the world during a baseball game national anthem. But you better do some research into the exact statement you think you’re gonna make and make sure it’s not a divisive catch phrase, which is what 'all lives matter' has become."
Campbell and I laughed a lot during our conversation, but that's not because either of us find racism funny.
"No, I don’t find racism funny and, no, I don’t find inadvertent support of racism funny," Campbell says. "There are levels of offense to take at things you find racist, and they should correlate with the level of the offense. So, is this the same as this guy walking up to me and slapping me in the face and calling me 'Boy?' No. But it is him making a fool of himself, so we can make a fool of him, too."
This segment aired on July 16, 2016.
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