Playing the “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events has become an empty gesture of patriotism—so empty that, when the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks quietly began skipping the ritual, 13 preseason and regular-season games passed before anyone noticed.
On Tuesday, The Athletic reported that the Mavericks had abandoned the national anthem, making them the first team in the recent history of major professional sports to take such a stance. The next day, the National Basketball Association issued a statement declaring that every team must play the song, in accordance with league rules. Inevitably, the Mavericks reversed course.
But the Mavericks should have held their ground, because playing the anthem shouldn’t be a pregame ritual in American sports. Not during a time when many people—including many athletes of color—are deeply uncomfortable with how patriotic symbols have been weaponized to undermine and diminish the humanity of Black and brown Americans.
The Mavericks’ owner, Mark Cuban, clearly understood the conflict that the anthem created. “We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country,” he said in a statement. “I have always stood for the anthem with the hand over my heart—no matter where I hear it played. But we also hear the voices of those who do not feel the anthem represents them. We feel they also need to be respected and heard, because they have not been heard. The hope is that those who feel passionate about the anthem being played will be just as passionate in listening to those who do not feel it represents them.”