What do you do on a stormy Saturday night when the sporting event you’ve been waiting for all day is delayed and the stadium’s public address system isn’t working? If you’re an Atlanta United soccer fan, you sing the national anthem.
That’s what happened this weekend inside Bobby Dodd Stadium before the local team (known as the Five Stripes) went out and thrashed the Houston Dynamo 4-1 in the sport the rest of the world calls football. Local news station 11Alive caught most of it on video:
— 11Alive Sports (@11AliveSports) May 20, 2017
It was a fantastic feel-good moment, and, as a season ticket holder for Atlanta United (we call ourselves “Founding Members”), it was fun to be a very, very small part of it. For context, it’s important to note that lightning strikes delayed the start of Saturday’s match for nearly an hour. This meant local independent artist Chinua Hawk had to sit on ice, waiting for his chance to sing the anthem in front of a sellout crowd of nearly 45,000 people. It also meant that fans were filing in a bit later than usual, having been forced to find shelter outside the stadium until the gates opened approximately 40 minutes before kickoff. That took a while, and it accounts for the empty seats you see in 11Alive’s video. Even though these seats filled in later, the sight had to be at least a small letdown for Hawk as he took the field to sing.
Then it got worse. He held up the mic and started to sing. Silence. He flipped a switch on the bottom of the mic and tried again. More silence. But this time, it was immediately broken by fans in the Supporters Section—and soon by everyone in the stadium.
If you aren’t familiar with soccer, the supporters section is a place where the die-hards sit (or, more accurately, stand) during games. They take it upon themselves to lead chants, cheers, and songs (yes, songs) for the rest of the crowd. They tend to be highly proficient pre-game tailgaters, and they bring the passion. Think “student section at an SEC football game,” but with a round ball. And songs. That’s them behind the goal on the left side of the video.
Anyway they took the lead, as they always do, and started belting out “The Star Spangled Banner” with gusto. By the second bar, the whole crowd had joined in—including Hawk, who grinned, lowered his mic, and sang along. This was no solemn rendition. It was boisterous and celebratory, entirely appropriate for the occasion. After the match, Hawk called the experience “incredible.” According to 11Alive:
It made me smile because for that moment, we were not divided by politics, racial issues or anything else. We were one, and it was beautiful. I was honored to be one voice among many last night singing together in a unified spirit.
Good for him, and good for the club to invite him back to sing again later this season.
The best part about this is that it was the furthest thing from a political statement. It’s not as if some wave of patriotic fervor swept over the crowd. That would be the Kim Jong-un interpretation of what fueled the spontaneous display. Instead, this was about people being their best pre-political selves. When confronted with a potentially awkward situation, the crowd simply refused to leave the anthem singer to twist in the wind. Even in this small way, regular people showing concern for another and then taking the initiative to do something about it was a reminder of what has always made America great. (And let’s not forget Canada. Canada can be pretty great too.)
Atlanta United uses the tag line “Unite and Conquer,” which is apt since the home crowd looks like…well, Atlanta. There are people of all different skin tones who speak different languages at home. But at Bobby Dodd Stadium, we come together for few hours to enjoy each other’s company and exchange a few high-fives along the way. Oh, and songs. Some of which go viral.
P.S. If you’re curious about how the rest of the match went, it went like this: