Oh Say Can You See...Patrioism in the Press Box?

Shawn AvantsCorrespondent IApril 7, 2009

FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 15:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, speaks with members of the media after crashing during the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 15, 2007 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

It has often been said NASCAR fans are the most patriotic and reverent fans in the sports world. NASCAR races are also one of the few sporting events I can think of that still televise the pre-race prayer and National Anthem.

But what about the reporters accompanying the NASCAR caravan as it crosses the United States? Do they share the same love of country? Do they rise and remove their hats when the fans do?

I am not trying to insinuate sports reporters are unpatriotic. As someone who does not have a journalism background, and had not been exposed to the hustle and bustle behind a major sporting event, I never considered the question.

But if you are like me, and have found yourself asking this question, I can answer it for you.

They do.

I am lucky enough to work in the infield media center at Texas Motor Speedway whenever NASCAR or the Indy Racing League comes to town.

My first race in the media center was the November 2007 Dickies 500, which Jimmie Johnson won en route to his second NASCAR NEXTEL (now Sprint) Cup Championship.

Before I started working in there, I enjoyed the races from the stands or from my living room. Of course, when you are in the stands, you hear the public address announcer ask everyone to please rise and remove their hats for the pre-race prayer and National Anthem.

I cannot recall ever seeing a race fan not doing so. It is what a patriotic American does.

But it never crossed my mind if the members of the press, nestled away in the media center, preparing to report the event the rest of us were also preparing to take part in the pre-race prayer and National Anthem.

The media center is a busy place, and only gets busier as race time gets closer. Hundreds of reporters, photographers, and other public relations people are running in and out constantly.

Television monitors are tuned to track feeds, network broadcasts, and scoring systems in order to provide constant streams of information.

Full-time track media center employees spend several months preparing for a race that lasts only a few hours, and it seems their workload only increases as it gets closer to the start time.

It may be the most stressful time of their weekend.

For reporters, there are already deadlines to be met, and others have the responsibility of providing updates instantaneously through a Web site or wire service.

I could understand if media center employees and reporters could not take a few moments to stop and show their respect for this country.

When I heard the announcer inform us it was time to stand, I tuned it out. I had things to do, and besides, I was in a building.

How could I be expected to know where the American flag was in order to face it? Who in the grandstands would see me being unpatriotic?

However, I was not the only one to hear the request to rise. Everyone who was seated around me began to stand up and face the television monitors. Those who were wearing hats or caps removed them as a sign of respect.

I heard one reporter who was on a cell phone tell the person he was talking to "I'll call you back. Its time for the anthem.”

The center became quiet. No typing, no talking. Just standing, and silence.

I got goosebumps. This hub of activity came to a complete standstill. The prayer began, and I noticed folks with their heads bowed, others being still and respectful.

When the National Anthem began, hands immediately covered hearts, and I could see a few reporters mouthing the words, following along in their own silent way.

As soon as the anthem was over, the media center came back to life. There was a race about to start and work to be done.

I am a Navy veteran, and have spent over 15 years in the public safety arena. I have seen many interesting things throughout the years, but that show of national pride and respect was one of the coolest things I had ever seen.

I would like to think this happens at every media center at every NASCAR race. Based on what I saw that night, I am sure it does.

However, I am not sure this happens at other sporting events across the country. I do not have any reason to believe it does not, but if not, and I am in that media center, at least one person will be standing for the prayer and the National Anthem.

I hope the others would join me.