NBA pushes back against Dallas Mavericks’ decision to not play national anthem before games

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Danny S | Wikimedia Commons

Farah Javed

The NBA announced on Feb. 10 that the national anthem must be played by all teams before basketball games. This came following the news that Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, planned on not playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before home games going forward.

For the entirety of the current NBA season, and even in the preseason, Cuban refrained from playing the anthem during home games, according to The Athletic. Cuban explained this decision in an appearance on ESPN’s The Jump where he stated that the decision to not play the anthem was “the product of ongoing conversations with members of the community who felt the tradition ‘did not fully represent them.’”

By doing this, Cuban broke a long-time tradition of playing the anthem before sporting events in the United States. In fact, the “Star Spangled Banner” was first played in the “1918 World Series during World War I, 13 years before it was even officially the national anthem,” according to Business Insider.

Cuban chose to break with tradition, instead playing “God Bless America” before each game. His actions highlight the ongoing controversy enshrouded around playing the national anthem during games.

In 1996, the Denver Nuggets’ Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand during the national anthem. “You can’t be for God and for oppression. It’s clear in the Quran, Islam is the only way,” Abdul-Rauf said to reporters then. “I don’t criticize those who stand, so don’t criticize me for sitting.”

The NBA suspended him for one game, and only through the union’s help, “he reached an agreement that he would stand for the anthem, but would be able to bow his head in prayer,” according to The Undefeated.

Fast forward to 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in order to protest police brutality. It appears that he followed Abdul-Rauf’s line of thinking.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said to the NFL. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

It is important to note that the NBA’s rules state players must stand for the national anthem, but that has not been strictly enforced to allow for recent protesting, according to NBC Sports.

The main reason that activists advocate against playing the anthem boils down to one key point: racism.

The author of the national anthem, Francis Scott Key, was a slave owner himself, which shows in the song. The anthem itself is actually four verses long, and the fourth one is widely considered problematic: “No refuge could save the hireling & slave/ From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:/ And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/ O’er the land of the free & the home of the brave.”

For instance, the “gloom of the grave” is meant to be a threat against slaves who chose to fight with the British during the Civil War,” according to American journalist and historian Marc Leepson.

During the summer of 2020, more and more people began to take a knee during the national anthem, even flat out protesting it, in response to the white police officer, Derek Chauvin, who murdered George Floyd by kneeling on his neck.

Hence, Cuban’s reasoning behind not playing the anthem reflects the growing awareness of systemic racism embedded within the American conscience.

“We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country,” Cuban tweeted from the official Dallas Mavericks’ account. “But we also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them. We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard, because they have not been,” he added.

Though many have supported Cuban’s decision, others have felt his choice to be insulting.

“Your decision to cancel our National Anthem at games is a slap in the face to every American & an embarrassment to Texas,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tweeted. “Sell the franchise & some Texas Patriots will buy it. We ARE the land of free & the home of the brave,” he added.

It is important to note that the NBA was aware Cuban was not playing the anthem before games since the start of the season, according to ABC News. It wasn’t considered a big issue, however, since games were being played without people in the stands due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Now, with sports venues opening back up to the public, the NBA is mandating that all teams must play the Star Spangled Banner before games.

“With NBA teams now in the process of welcoming fans back into their arenas, all NBA teams will play the national anthem in keeping with longstanding league policy,” NBA Chief Communications Officer Mike Bass said.

Though the Dallas Mavericks will comply with the NBA’s ruling, a divide remains over people touting the national anthem as a symbol of patriotism, and those who believe it is a symbol of oppression that needs reform. As of now, the NBA rules that it is the former and not the latter.