March 9, 2021

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Opinion: Mark Cuban’s decision to not play national anthem before games will surely draw outrage. But it’s long overdue.

4 min read

Good for Mark Cuban.

The Dallas Mavericks owner made a decision that is sure to bring howls of outrage, threats to boycott his team and an avalanche of vile and vicious emails. But it was the right decision, and I hope it gives others in professional and college sports the courage, or at least cover, to do the same.

The Mavericks are no longer playing the national anthem before home games. I don’t know the reasoning behind Cuban’s decision, and he’s declined to elaborate further, both to The Athletic, which first reported the absence of the anthem, and USA TODAY Sports.

But he hinted at it last summer, when he said he supported Mavericks players and coaches who were kneeling during the anthem to protest racial injustice following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many other Black men and women.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and his son, Jake, after a game between the Mavericks and the Miami Heat in Dallas.

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“The National Anthem Police in this country are out of control,” Cuban said on Twitter. “If you want to complain, complain to your boss and ask why they don’t play the National Anthem every day before you start work.”

He’s right. We don’t play The Star-Spangled Banner before concerts or movies. We don’t hear it at rec league soccer games or school plays. We don’t stand at attention and listen to it before we start our workdays.

If it doesn’t belong at those events – and clearly it doesn’t since there hasn’t been any widespread movement to make it a staple of our daily routine – it doesn’t belong at college and professional sporting events, either.

Here is where a segment of the population will say that anyone who dares suggest doing away with the anthem should move to China or North Korea and see how we like things there. The irony of which never escapes me. Requiring the anthem to be played before sporting events, and using it as some Rorschach test for how much you love your country, is the exact kind of faux display of patriotism those authoritarian regimes excel at.

There are no doubt some who are deeply moved by The Star-Spangled Banner, and see it as a way to honor those who have and do serve this country. But there are also those for whom it is a reminder of this country’s failings, and the work we still need to do to achieve true equality.

And then there are those for whom it is simply an extra two minutes to grab a hot dog and beer or make a run for the bathroom.

I suspect the majority of Americans fall into that last category. Oh, they might not admit it. But go to any game, and look at the number of people who are talking, texting, taking photos or walking to their seats during the anthem. I have, and it’s a lot. I even saw a guy vaping during the anthem once.

The Mavericks went 13 games, regular and pre-season, before anyone even noticed the absence of the anthem. Granted, Monday night’s game against Minnesota was the first that fans were allowed at American Airlines Center, and there were only 1,500 of them.

But none of the players, coaches or building staff had considered the anthem’s absence notable enough to mention it earlier. If any of the fans at Monday night’s game were upset, they haven’t said so publicly. There’ve been no protests, no burning of jerseys, no angry vows on Facebook to never buy season tickets again.

I expect that will change now, though. Those committed to the culture wars will see Cuban’s decision as an attack against the “real” America, a betrayal of the values and traditions that “true patriots” hold near and dear, and they will register their opposition with righteous indignation.

But like the flag, the anthem is meant to be a symbol of the ideals that define the United States of America. Those who value the former at the expense of the latter, who prize an object over what it stands for, have caused this country serious harm. 

Patriotism – real patriotism – requires work. It requires intention and tough conversations. The anthem has been drowning those out, however, and Cuban is no longer willing to play along.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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