A political flashpoint erupted last week when it became apparent the Dallas Mavericks skipped playing the Star-Spangled Banner before their first 13 preseason and home games. Let’s ignore the fact fans were present for just one game and no one noticed until The Athletic noticed and reported it. The Internet and political horde immediately grabbed their battle standards and torches (tiki and traditional) either accusing team owner Mark Cuban of being “un-American” and “canceling” the National Anthem or suggesting it time to rethink when the anthem is played. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick ordered Cuban to sell the team, then vowed the Texas Legislature would pass a bill requiring all events which get public money to play the Star-Spangled Banner (more on that later). The NBA, which Cuban consulted with before deciding to eschew the song, ordered all teams to adhere to the National Anthem policy. It played again on Wednesday and Friday nights and will for the rest of the season.
Yet, it’s not the first time the Mavs skipped the National Anthem. The team played God Bless America before home games for its first 16 years of existence. Mavs co-founder and former GM Norm Sonju told The Dallas Morning News it was his idea to play God Bless America before games and team owner Don Carter went with it whole-heartedly (full disclosure: my parents were friendly with Sonju during his Mavs’ tenure and attended the same church). His reasoning was two-fold: God Bless America is easier to sing and shorter, so he didn’t expect to see anyone start moving around or not really paying attention while the music plays. Makes sense given how many times players are videoed staring off into space during other sporting events.
Sonju admits he wanted to make sure North Texas, dealing with race issues in the early 80s, embraced the Mavericks. He figured the best way to do so was to have the team on the court and face the flag during God Bless America and make sure fans knew they’d never quit playing hard.
“I was desperate to do everything I could to earn the respect of people in the Metroplex, knowing that within those people there were some that had real attitudes, racially and other things,” he explained to The Dallas Morning News. “Wrong? Absolutely those feelings were wrong. But the fact was I couldn’t change how they feel, but I could change what they think by how we respond.”
And it worked, although true success wasn’t realized until the arrival of Don and Donnie Nelson, Dirk Nowitzki, and Mark Cuban in the late 90s and early 2000s. Dallas switched to the National Anthem after Don Carter sold the team in 1996 only because new owner Ross Perot Jr. wanted to conform to NBA guidelines.
This brings us back to Cuban and his National Anthem experiment.
The “controversy” is completely overblown in today’s hyper-polarized political discourse. Cuban’s no socialist and his support of President Joe Biden last year (and Hillary Clinton in 2016) appears more due to disagreements with ex-President Donald Trump. The no anthem experiment was exactly that, an experiment. Cuban wasn’t looking to cancel the anthem. He just wanted to see how long he could go without the Star-Spangled Banner. He told ESPN he knew the anthem would be played again before home games, when fans were present. Those who suggest he was canceling the anthem completely misread his statements. It’s just plain laughable to suggest anything else.
As for those citing Cuban’s “Hopefully I’d join them,” comment last year regarding kneeling during the Star-Spangled Banner ignore one important thing. Cuban emphasized he wanted players to be respectful in their protest. Worth remembering before castigating him as some sort of anti-American.
What’s disturbing is this push by politicians for rather vague rules requiring the anthem before events. Patrick claims his Star-Spangled Banner Protection Act involves gatherings receiving public funding. What defines public funding? Is it using a city-owned arena or having off-duty police direct traffic before and after games? An easy solution is for teams to buy arenas outright and use private security for traffic direction.
There are also First Amendment questions given the fact sports games are private events. What are you going to do, send a governmental representative to each game and file a report on whether the anthem was played? Yeah…that’s not disconcerting and what you’d expect from a dictatorship, instead of the so-called “Land of the Free.”
Find something else to fight over. The anthem isn’t one of them.