A little more than a week ago, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban took a moment out of his busy day — presumably otherwise spent toying with the hopes and dreams of desperate Americans sinking their life savings into mediocre and unnecessary business ideas for entertainment on network television — to appear to confirm via ESPN that the team he runs would no longer be playing the National Anthem before their home games.
Predictably, and right on cue, the Lives-to-Rant-Wearing-Wraparound-Shades-from-the-Driver’s-Seat-of-an-F-150 Brigade broke out to take Cuban to task for hating America, or freedom, or the military, or whatever. The quick backlash provoked the NBA to release a statement reaffirming their league-wide mandate to play the anthem before all games, forcing Cuban to again go on ESPN to walk back his reported initial stance.
To be clear — unlike all the other local sports teams with their minimal regard for CDC guidelines — the Mavs (at least at the time) were not hosting fans during their home games and therefore had not been playing the anthem to their empty stadium anyway. According to Cuban, due to ongoing “dialogue with the community” and the fact that many among those to whom he was referring “voiced their concerns, really their fears, that the national anthem did not fully represent them,” the team decided not to play the anthem in their first preseason game and sort of gauge the reaction. Then, as nothing appeared to happen, they just never resumed playing it.
The lack of initial pushback was no doubt aided by the fact that most television stations had already jettisoned routinely broadcasting the anthem (to the patriots at home who no-doubt stand hand over heart in their living room like they’re supposed to) during the pre-game presentations more than two years ago. Cutting of the anthem was an attempt to turn down the temperature of the nationwide controversy begun in 2016 when San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick peacefully took a knee during the anthem to protest police violence against Black Americans. With other players then following suit and the corresponding backlash (largely instigated and exacerbated by the glorified Twitter troll then occupying the White House), the squabbling over the anthem has been a constant irritant ever since. Neglecting to broadcast the playing of the anthem was a sort of tree-falling-in-a-forest-with-no-one-around-to-hear-it approach to dealing with the players’ demonstrations. So it had gone unnoticed so far this season. It’s unclear how or why attention was drawn to the Mavs’ recent practice regarding the anthem, forcing Cuban to answer questions about it, and then sparking the recent mostly social media-based bickering.
It’s frustrating, yet probably should be expected, that the NBA — supposedly the most progressive of the four major sports — felt the need to buckle to pressure from the small percentage of their viewers that probably have a Parler account and release such a hostage video-style response to assure those flag-fetishists that the NBA still “isn’t too woke for them.” But, as they did after receiving heat from the Chinese government over league personnels’ comments drawing attention to the ethnic cleansing of the Uighur minority in that country early last season, the league proved once again that corporate sponsors still have a bigger voice than their players.
More frustrating perhaps — mostly because literally no one asked — was the sudden injecting of themselves into the discussion by the Mavs’ AAC bunkmates in the Dallas Stars organization. Somewhere between the news breaking of Cuban’s supposed cancelling of the anthem and the NBA’s subsequent coddling of the Punisher skull set by contradicting him, the Stars PR department found it fit to release a statement via Twitter assuring anyone who would read it that the anthem would continue to be played at all their own superspreader events . . . er, I mean, games.
Obviously, I have no beef with the Stars continuing to play the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The organization is more than within its right to give their fans the opportunity to show the requisite fealty and respect the anthem deserves by shouting “Stars!” twice during it. (You know, just as the founders intended.) My problem is in the statement’s blatant intent to appeal to and court a very specific demographic.
By not only wrapping themselves in the American flag, but the Texas one as well (the statement shoehorned in a line about being the Lone Star State’s only NHL franchise), the Stars nakedly sent a message aimed directly at former basketball fans bemoaning the league’s recent embrace of social justice movements. As if to say, “Are you mad that players have opinions as well as the ability to shoot a basketball? Or that there exists a league tolerant of them expressing those opinions? Well, come on over to the NHL! The sport with the bluest of collars among its fandom welcomes you and your grievances!” It’s also not lost that the NHL is also 99% white.
The move also reeks of desperation. The NHL in general is having a tough go financially compared to the other of the big four and the Stars are not immune. But they should be trying to broaden their appeal into other demographics instead of trying to milk an ever-shrinking one. By being so utterly transparent in their courting of the same group of people who likely think kneeling during a song is disrespectful to America while literally trying to overthrow its government because of a bunch of made up bullshit makes you a patriot, the Stars only succeed in demonstrating how narrow their worldview is and just how small their aims truly are.
Grasping at this ever-declining, ethno-centric, nationalistic demographic may be the less risky play in the short term, but over the long haul, it will only further isolate hockey — especially here in the South — into the niche novelty sporting event it practically already is.
No one would reasonably expect the Stars to be at the vanguard of social activism, (again the whole 99% white thing). But next time, instead of recklessly Leroy Jenkins-ing themselves into the debate, if they’re not going to contribute to helping progress the conversation, bridging the divide with tolerance and understanding of differing views, they should at least do what they’ve historically done: stay the hell out of it.