Cancel This Entire Season of National Anthem Ball
The morning began well enough, but there was an intrusion, and ripple in the Twitter continuum as it were. I was informed by the hive mind of social media that I am now expected to have a strong reaction to owner Mark Cuban directing the Dallas Mavericks NBA team to cease playing the national anthem.
I did not, other than a semi-joking tweet with the “Uh-huh, that’s bait” GIF from Fury Road and a quip about having seen this movie, agreeing with our friend Tod Kelly that the fact nobody noticed until now was telling, and later a lament that I was tired of National Anthem ball.
Sure enough, by mid-afternoon, ducking that particular ball of hot cultural mess proved out to be the correct decision since the original story didn’t even make it past lunchtime on the west coast.
Now we know why Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn’t want to bring attention to his decision to stop playing the national anthem before home games this season.
Days after Cuban’s decision started receiving national attention — but months after it was actually put into practice — the NBA issued a statement Wednesday saying all teams would stick with the tradition of playing the anthem before tipoff.
“With NBA teams now in the process of welcoming fans back into their arenas, all teams will play the national anthem in keeping with longstanding league policy,” NBA chief communications officer Mike Bass said in the statement.
The Mavericks had indicated earlier this week that they had no plans to start playing the anthem again, but Cuban told the New York Times of the NBA’s mandate: “We are good with it.”
Cuban defended the rights of players and coaches to kneel during the anthem before games in the Florida bubble last year. In a since-deleted tweet from July, Cuban wrote: “The National Anthem Police in this country are out of control. 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 told the New York Times earlier this week that he determined that the anthem would not be played before games at American Airlines Center in 2020-21, starting with the preseason.
“It was my decision, and I made it in November,” Cuban said without any elaboration.
According to the Athletic, the organization didn’t publicize the decision and did not announce it internally. It wasn’t until Monday, when a limited number of fans were allowed to attend a Mavericks home game for the first time this season, that the absence of the anthem received widespread attention.
Recall, if you will, that it was the NBA suspending their season with afflicted players testing positive for Covid that was the first real cultural shockwave that foretold 2020 and the pandemic being like nothing we had seen in our lifetimes. Baseball soon followed, along with other sporting events either suspending or canceling their seasons. The NBA did finally get their season finished in “the bubble” of a Disney World encampment, and are slowly starting to let fans back into buildings this season. College football similarly had starts and stops on their way to playing, and the biggest sport of them all in America, the NFL, just finished a complete if irregular season with a limited audience for the Super Bowl.
The sports leagues canceled their seasons to stop a dangerous virus. Therefore, it would be all together appropriate for us to cancel another season of a sort of sport to stop another virus: This latest season of National Anthem Ball must be cancelled immediately.
I’ve just frankly had enough online rage debate over the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Flag of the United States of America, or whatever other symbolism you want to put forth. This is not the first, and I doubt the last time, I will have to write about such things. I do understand the passion, though, I really do. Each of those things mean a great deal to me, things that I would have trouble fully explaining in words, things that I could easily express in anger or worse if I didn’t keep my own bearing and emotions in check. But that is beside the point; those are my feelings, my emotions, my attachment and connection. Not everyone has those same feelings, emotions, and connections to the symbols of our country. They don’t have to. That doesn’t make them less American, or less patriotic, or anything else other than different.
We are fickle about which sacraments of our civic religion are unbreakable, and when not observing them is/isn’t an unpardonable sin. Along with being older than sliced bread, Betty White is also 9 years older than the Star-Spangled Banner being the Official National Anthem of the United States of America. You might want to sit down for this one, but Bellamy — an avowed socialist at the time, by the way — wrote what became the Pledge of Allegiance as a PR stunt, and indeed went into advertising in later life. Until WW2 it was done with the “Bellamy Salute” which had to be axed since it was indistinguishable from what is now universally known as the Nazi Salute. Oh, and the “Under God” part didn’t make it into the pledge until a 1954 act of congress.
The Flag of the United States has been more constant in the 240 plus years of America. The Star-Spangled Banner, the banner, has changed with the addition of states, but even as the original venerated symbol of America it isn’t the Ark of the Covenant, striking everyone dead that dares touch it when unclean and unworthy. Waving it at something, or decorating an event, or a person wearing it as a vestment doesn’t make anything more patriotic, or more American, or more whatever you want to claim it does. Putting the flag on a casket, transfer case, or folded beside the remains of someone is a different matter, but that isn’t what the interwebs are doing here, no matter how much they would like to make it so.
Nor does burning Nikes for your social media followers to marvel and coo at your patriotically puritanism extending from your kicks poulaine-style. Nor does the playing or not playing of the National Anthem. Nor does fussing about athletes who kneel disrespecting the country, or the National Anthem, or veterans, or whatever else. Those who insist it does have their own lives giving testimony to what a lie that is since they are nowhere to be found protesting, burning, or fussing at how actual veterans are treated by the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System their own tax dollars pay for. “He/they/it disrespected the vets!!!!” person cannot be bothered to pay any attention to those same vets when it won’t get them noticed to do so. After all, actually doing something for those who bore the burden of battle for all those freedoms that get sloganeered by the poser patriots of social media is messy, complicated, thankless work. Who wants to do that when there are games to watch? Not to mention the equally daunting task of addressing issues of race, social justice, and other matters those athletes are protesting and seeking change for. Just wave the flag at them until they get out of the way of enjoying our game, dang them.
So, yes, when social media demanded we scratch their itch of National Anthem outrage at Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks, the NBA, and whoever else, my immediate reaction was to pass. We’ve seen this movie. We know it has nothing to do with actual patriotism but rather the passions of the moment and the furthering of well-honed priors and continuations of long-running grievances. It’s not really patriotic furor, but self-righteous inertia, of lacking a better way of contending in the arena of ideas when the world isn’t going your way. By the afternoon, Mark Cuban had publicly complied with the NBA mandate to play the anthem before games. No doubt the next stage will be a return of the kneeling debate. I’ll probably pass on that too. It’s a rerun, after all, and we all should know where we are at on that issue by now.
If folks insist on continuing this season of National Anthem Ball the way we have the last few, that is their right to do it. But I don’t have to watch it, or participate in it, or pretend that the whole posing mess is anything other than what it is. And I won’t. No matter how much you try to wave the flag at me about it. .