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Mark Cuban Could Force Necessary Anthem Debate

Gage Skidmore via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Did you hear the one about the major sports franchise that refused to play the Star-Spangled Banner before games and the furor that ensued? Chances are, you didn’t. That’s because the league in question quashed the first part of the matter before the second could erupt. 

The problem is, we needed the clamor that would have ensued to launch the debate we should have had years ago about the propriety of playing the national anthem before sporting events.

A week ago, Tim Cato, a writer from the sports website, the Athletic, noticed that the national anthem wasn’t played before a game at the Dallas Mavericks’ arena. 

Upon further investigation, Cato discovered the anthem hadn’t been played since the season started in December, a span of 13 preseason and regular season games.

No one apparently noticed the absence of the Star-Spangled Banner, though that seemed likely to change when fans started returning to the stands over the next few weeks.

Cato wrote about the anthem’s absence, and the organization initially appeared willing to take whatever heat was coming. 

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told ESPN that the team wasn’t trying to make a statement in refraining from the anthem. 

Instead, the decision was based on the notion that some people expressed a concern that the song didn’t really represent them.

Cuban was attacking the idea of blind patriotism exemplified by the playing of a song that frankly does not symbolize American ideals.

Have you listened to the words of the Star-Spangled Banner recently? I mean, really listened? 

Yes, the lyrics were written here at Fort McHenry by Francis Scott Key during a battle in the War of 1812. But that fact doesn’t mean that Baltimoreans hold the song particularly sacrosanct, or have you not paid attention to what Orioles fans do during the playing of the supposedly sacred national hymn?

The nation would actually be better served with “America The Beautiful” or “My Country Tis of Thee” as its anthem, but that’s not even really the focus of Cuban’s stance.

What the Dallas owner and others are talking about is the appropriateness of imposing love of country on people who don’t always feel that affection returned to them. 

The pre-anthem kneeling that has gone on for the last five years or so has been a plea for all sides to examine what it means to be an American at this juncture in our history. 

And for those who would say such discussions have no place at a sporting event, one could ask in reply why a basketball game or baseball game or any game, for that matter, is the appropriate place for a national anthem.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who has had to quash one controversy after another since taking office six years ago, moved to nip this one in the bud too.

Through a spokesman, Silver said that, as fans return to arenas, all clubs will play the national anthem, as a matter of league policy. And, sure enough, the Mavericks started playing the “Star-Spangled Banner” later in the week.

But, here’s hoping in this land of the free and home of the brave, we seriously think about facing the music before we play ball.      

And that’s how I see it for this week.


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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.