BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 02/19/2021

Thiel: NBA says no to planting flag about anthem

The NBA reversed Mark Cuban’s decision not to play the national anthem before Mavs games. That doesn’t change the need to re-think whether habitual play diminishes it.

The bigger the flag, the better the patriotism? How about we no longer go there? / Wikimedia Commons 2015

In terms of enlightenment among among global sports operations, the NBA is generally considered to be the leader of the pack. That doesn’t mean they are any less ruthless when it comes to, say, ripping up one of its franchises and replanting it elsewhere, mostly out of spite.

But it usually doesn’t miss a chance to be a social-issues trail blazer (not looking at you, Portland), at least when it doesn’t cost them money.

So it was a bit surprising to read last week that the NBA ordered all teams to keep to the custom of playing the Star-Spangled Banner before every game. It did so because the maverick owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, went without.

For 13 pre-season and regular-season games at American Airlines Center. And nobody noticed. Even Deepinthehearta.

Which tells anyone all that needs to be known about the subsequent controversy.

The custom that endures for decades uniquely in one industry has become, because of its repetitiveness, mundane to the point of devolving into an empty gesture.

I mean, if Texans didn’t notice the absence, case closed.

If a witness were needed to confirm the minimal respect that often attends the ritual, former Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin described in a 2017 interview what goes on behind the players’ bench in the stands. He was defending teammate Michael Bennett’s decision to sit, quietly and unanimated, for the anthem.

“He’s taking a reasonable and peaceful approach,” he said. “But we’re not talking about people who are in the stands drunk during the anthem, with their hats still on, yelling at players, cussing . . . we’re not talking about that.”

Instead, we have in the latest squabble an outraged Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Mordor), who told Cuban in a tweet to “sell the franchise & some Texas Patriots will buy it.” Many other Texans joined him in going all Yosemite Sam.

Many others, especially people of color who long have ridden in the back of the American bus, disagreed, citing the distance between “land of the free” and their own realities.

Even the notoriously white Stan Van Gundy, head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, said he could not understand the custom to validate one’s patriotism at a sports event.

I’m a little contradictory here regarding the spectacle part of this issue, almost exclusively because I was fortunate to have worked the 1991 Super Bowl in Tampa, when the one and only Whitney Houston delivered her immortal rendition. The link is here. Please click on it if you want to make your day better. I just played it three times, and my geese were bumped three times.

Of course, the point here is not entertainment value. The point is whether forcing engagement at ordinary events devalues the meaning, and whether our continuing failures to live up to the soaring lyrics renders it hurtful to some.

We often cheapen our symbols with overwrought displays, as if size and number of flags and yelling of songs somehow makes for better patriotism, as opposed to the harder things like sacrifice, courage, honesty and telling truth to power.

The misappropriation and abuse of our symbols reached its nadir during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Americans went through two hot wars in Europe and one in Southeast Asia, a cold war with the Soviet Union, an attack from Saudi terrorists on New York City and the Pentagon, as well as an apolitical pandemic, only to find out Jan. 6 that Pogo, the character in the long-ago L’il Abner cartoon strip by Walt Kelly, was right: “We have met they enemy, and they are us.”

Apparently some of same white Americans who were denigrating football players for sitting and kneeling during anthems were OK with becoming domestic terrorists and using Old Glory on a stick to beat police officers who were defending the building where the presidential election was being certified.

In a segment of his routine making the rounds on Twitter, comedian Dave Chappelle wielded the truth about the terrorism with his usual blunt force:

Watched that crowd that told Colin Kaepernick he can’t kneel during a football game try to beat a police officer to death with an American flag. Was that what (Edward) Snowden was talking about — who’s the terrorist now? They didn’t call the National Guard on my Black ass.

Mike Wise, a recovering sports columnist, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post lamenting that in these polarized times, even though the anthem’s exit from ordinary sports events needs to happen, this is probably not a time to inflame with further controversy.

He’s probably right. But that doesn’t mean fans, athletes, owners and sponsors shouldn’t think about how they can hasten that day when playing the anthem is reserved to help commemorate, celebrate or memorialize an august moment.

In response to Wise, one commenter wrote, “As a veteran, it embarrasses me that the imbeciles who claim kneelers are insulting me, are the actual ones insulting me. I didn’t go to war for a flag, or anyone’s right to use it as a bludgeon.”

The cause of legitimate patriotism is advanced when symbols, rituals and customs are freed from commercialization, commoditization and racism, and allowed to be special, not superfluous.


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YourThoughts

  • Roger Donahe

    Happy Friday all. Well reasoned and written as usual Art. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Karen Farr

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    • art thiel

      Thanks, Roger.

  • Brent Hannon

    wait, what? the NBA is considered more enlightened than other global sports operations? that’s a low bar: didn’t the NBA cravenly capitulate to China after the Daryl Morey tweet to stand with Hong Kong? didn’t they, as you say, vindictively uproot the Sonics? and now this? I’d like to respectfully suggest that the NBA is no better than its peers, ie no better than any other big business, in which money matters more than anything else. as for ending the anthem at sports events, I wholeheartedly agree. If you’ve seen one football-field size flag, one color guard, one dramatic hoisting or unfurling, one taxpayer-funded flyover, you’ve seen them all.

    • art thiel

      No argument about the low bar. But regarding initiatives about racial/social injustice, it does lead. The NBA and players union also have a less contentious relationship with each other. I don’t expect anyone in the Seattle market to cut the NBA the slightest bit of slack, but the operation rates credit where due.

  • Husky73

    Just superb writing, Art. Your journalism professor at PLU is proud of you. Mine at Highline College is applauding.

    • art thiel

      Thanks. I think my profs were justifiably happy when I quit dangling participles.

  • Husky73

    Larry David refers to the OKC Thunder as a spite store.

  • Alan Harrison

    Don’t hate me, but I grew up in LA. My dad had season tickets to UCLA basketball and football (UCLA’49) and took me to see all the games for years. During the late 60s/early 70s, students at UCLA (and lots of other colleges) stayed seated during the anthem because they thought Vietnam was a crime against humanity (and they didn’t want to go out there and get killed). Every game. For years. People may not have liked it, but they just shrugged for the most part because they knew it had nothing to do with the troops – in fact, it was to save the troops from getting killed over a d*ck measurement exercise. The anthem was dumb and disconnected then and it is now. Well written, Art, and more power to you.

    • art thiel

      The changing view of the worth of the Vietnam war over the 60s and 70s is one of the great pivot points in American history. We learned not to believe everything our government said. Protests of many varieties carried the message.

  • Coop

    Am I the only one that feels that national anthems are from a different era, and need to go? Sort of a forced coalescing of commonality, yet at their core are inherently divisive, especially with so many of the upcoming generation identifying as global citizens.
    If anthems are the oath of higher ideals then those in power (at all levels) have to be the caretakers of those ideals (I’m looking at you police officers and politicians). I can’t think of one decade in the last 100 years where the ruling class has combined rhetoric with action for a passing grade.
    I’m surprised anyone stands for our anthem, no matter who is singing. All that Patrick and his ilk continue to reinforce for me is that the most insecure always scream the loudest for validation.

  • tor5

    Right on, Art! I don’t really have a strong opinion about the anthem at sporting events. But the mindless flag wavers and U-S-A chanters often disgust me. Usually it’s in the context warmongering, xenophobia, or cheering a would-be despot. I’m so grateful to be a citizen of this country and to all those who have served in one way or another, but most displays of “patriotism” make me feel anything but proud. In fact, it’s rarely about patriotism (love of country) but much more about nationalism (denigrating others).

    • art thiel

      Sports leagues are always fans of the status quo and the military-industrial complex, because a prosperous middle class allows for creation of entertainment. But now that the middle class shrinks, and income/racial inequality diminishes so many lives, it’s hard for for to feel like offering a salute.

  • busterbluth

    “Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Mordor)” had me laughing out loud. Great stuff Art.

    And I’m a little shocked that resident Trump groupie OneCoolGuy hasn’t weighed in to tell you and all your lamestream media commie buddies to move back to North Korea or some such nonsense.

    • jafabian

      Being banned from social media is the reason. Now he’s drowning himself in Big Macs.

    • art thiel

      Hey now. He’s busy. I don’t think you appreciate how difficult it is to get dead people to admit they voted.

    • DB

      You can always count on leftists elites to insult any ‘deplorable’ who doesn’t agree with their view of the world. They aren’t interested in hearing anyone else’s opinion, what they want is to hear their opinions coming out of everyone else’s mouth. You don’t have to be a Trump supporter to see the smugness.

      • Husky73

        The GQP is tough on terrorists, until the terrorists are Republicans.

        • DB

          Every Conservative I’ve heard from has condemned the violent actions that took place in the nation’s capital, and called for prosecution of the perps. Contrast that with the VP who supported bailing out ‘terrorists’ who did violence in our cities this summer…

          • Husky73

            The same people that were outraged that Colin Kaepernick kneeled, beat a police officer to death with a flag.

          • Husky73

            Did 47 conservatives in the Senate call for prosecution of the perp? You must not know them.

          • DB

            Yes, all of the 47 condemned the rioters. The partisan accusation of incitement and the snap impeachment was another matter, -which was adjudicated. Sorry if you didn’t like the verdict. Just because you hate somebody doesn’t make them guilty.

          • Husky73

            I liked the verdict. Trump lost 57-43.

          • jafabian

            What’s interesting is that those 47 originally planned to object to the Electoral College votes for then President-elect Joe Biden in key battleground states. It took a riot that could harm them to change their minds.

          • DB

            Far more interesting is your ability to plumb the psyches of 47 different people and know what they were thinking and why they did what they did.

      • art thiel

        We’re listening to you and 1coolguy, and his insults. Carry on . . .

        I’m glad we agree that I don’t have to be a Trump supporter.

        • DB

          Yes, coolguy is needlessly insulting and would benefit from better manners. Picking him out of the ether to insult back is something Trump would do and offers no credit to those that go there. Justifying hitting back by referencing his insults is (sorry), whatsboutism. 😊

          • Husky73

            The minds of the GQP have become graveyards, in which they buried reason, logic, conscience and truth. Out of that spring the noxic weeds of ignorance and conspiracies.

          • DB

            Please include both parties in your observation. It’s why so many citizens supported such a disgusting personality as Trump to come in from the outside. They hoped he would ‘drain the swamp’. Unfortunately, he was far too flawed to truly succeed in climbing that mountain. With more than a little help from the mainstream press, the swamp has won out. -Perhaps you noticed they gave themselves a pay raise in the most recent pandemic bail-out they passed.

      • busterbluth

        Leftist elites. Good one.
        Are you new around here? The guy I’m referring to injects his political beliefs into every one of his posts and is constantly lashing out. Stay around here long enough and I’m sure you’ll get to meet him. The two of you would get along swimmingly, I’m sure.

  • jafabian

    When it was announced that the Mavericks would no longer play the Anthem I thought it about time someone took that step but questioned how it would go over in Texas. It should have stopped being played after WW2 since it began then as a means of showing support to troops overseas. Fans have always considered the playing of the Anthem as nothing more than a commercial. An opportunity to go to the bathroom or get some food. You don’t see anyone rushing to the game for it. “Quick! We’re going to be late for the Anthem and we can’t be late for it!” And if fans had a choice between watching a game or watching a performance of Yankee Doodle Dandy I’m pretty confident the game would win out.

    At least the discussion for ending the tradition has started. I’m expecting either the NBA or WNBA to kick it off. Or the NHL so they can quit playing O Canada. MLB will be last if at all being the traditionalist that they are. Though even playing God Bless America has become controversial due to revelations regarding singer Kate Smith’s 1931 recordings of “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” and “Pickaninny Heaven.” In her defense she supported racial equality but the recordings hurt her legacy. The only item of importance at a sporting event is the event itself. Leagues can always do special events to recognize patriotism occasionally to satisfy the diehards.

    On a sidenote another item to get rid of should be announcing the school or country the player is from as well as height. Does it really have an impact on the game at hand? All we need is (In my best George Toles voice) “At point guard, Gus WILLIAMS!” Not “At point guard, from USC, 6’2”, GUS WILLIAMS!” Everyone has cell phones, they can look up the extra details.

    • Tim Duncan

      jafabian yes i agree with that but most any event ive attended they stop the concessions of beer pop and hot dogs during the anthem

      • jafabian

        I’m talking about at home. No one pays attention to the anthem at home and that’s if it’s shown. Many times it isn’t.

    • BB46

      Jaf,,,, The Anthem is probably about the only thing in the whole affair that ISN’T a commercial for something they want us to purchase. I was just noticing the other day that I pay a lot of $$$ to subscribe to TV where I watch commercial after commercial to try to sell me something. Thinking really hard about dumping TV. over 200 channels and nothing worth watching. Other than the old B&W reality TV show.. Rawhide. LOL

      • jafabian

        If you stream games then you don’t have to deal with it.

      • art thiel

        While you’re at it, make sure to tell the neighbor kids to get off your lawn.

        • BB46

          LOL That’s funny. Got a good chuckle out of that one. LOL Actually. I drive the neighborhood kids to school. (School bus driver) Love every one of them. They know where I live. Halloween always costs me lots of candy. Some even give me some.
          I went from Commercialism to value thinking. It’s all a balance.
          Anyway Art. Thanks for the chuckle. Liked it.

          • art thiel

            Driving a school bus is one of life’s more noble pursuits. Lots of responsibility, not much financial reward. But you get it.

    • Mark Stratton

      I think you’re wrong about Hockey, fans would be very upset if the anthem wasn’t played. Traditions die hard in the NHL

      • art thiel

        Probably true, although Canadians are generally more enlightened and less prone to nationalistic belligerence than we Yanks.

      • Husky73

        I wonder what will be the Kraken’s traditions?

        • Mark Stratton

          Hockey traditions would be my guess

    • art thiel

      I get 4th of July/Memorial Day. Purely on musical/lyrical merits, give me O Canada anytime. Purely on political/social merits, give me a new U.S. anthem. Jeez, can you imagine the fight over that? What rhymes with Four Seasons Total Landscaping?

      • jafabian

        Um…More Reasons Vocal Reshaping? Kinda fits the theme for changing the Anthem. I have always though America The Beautiful would make a great anthem. Ray Charles does it justice. I would smirk if a politician nominated Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA. Many think it’s the ultimate patriotic song when it’s about the economic hardships of Vietnam veterans. More reasons to nominate it then.

      • Husky73

        The Canadian Senate vote to change the lyrics in O Canada from, “True patriot love in all of thy sons command” to “In all of us command.”

      • Kirkland

        My family and I were watching the first Mariners home game after 9-11. Before the anthem, a grade school choir sang “God Bless America”. As they sang, my foreign-born mother wiped a tear from her eye and said, “This should have been your national anthem.” I agree, and wouldn’t mind seeing it changed. The lyrics are about love of a country, not a a jingoistic celebration of a war, and it’s got a melody, instead of music gymnastics borrowed from a British drinking song.

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    • Kirkland

      North America seems like the only area where they play the anthem before every sports event. (I’ve seen football-field-sized Canadian flags before CFL games, and not just the Grey Cup.) The NHL even has it written in the rules to play the anthem(s) before games.

      That said, in some countries they *do* play the anthem before movies. I remember it when visiting Southeast Asia as a kid, and I know the Indian prime minister has enacted the Indian anthem before movies recently.

      BTW, they don’t announce countries or colleges/last amateur teams before soccer or hockey games.

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      • jafabian

        Oh, I know. But let’s take it a step further. No more on TV, programs, online, etc, Is there really a need beyond name, number and position?

        • Kirkland

          Some people may want to know how prolific a college/amateur team is in pumping out players. Thunderbird fans, for instance love hearing how Mathew Barzal and Patrick Marleau played their junior hockey here, particularly since the team hasn’t sent as many stars to the NHL as Portland or even Spokane have.

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  • Kevin Lynch

    Agreed. Spot on. Reserve the playing for “august” events, as you say. For me, Luther Vandross in a wheelchair in Detroit on MNF was the greatest version I’ve heard. He didn’t have to change the song that much. He just set it aflame with his voice. Whitney Houston’s mother sang at his funeral. HOWEVER. Regarding the anthem I have this to say, and I am not a patriotic son. But I do have some authority when it comes to The Star Spangled Banner. I’ve studied the anthem on and off for 20 years and my understanding is this.

    It was created during a very late night. The British had burned the White House one week and were coming for Baltimore the next. We stopped them. They blasted Fort McHenry but…the rest you probably know. That’s what it had to do with. The ‘hireling and slave’ refers to British recruits.

    The anthem is a martial song. Beyond that, it’s a song for survival. “We WILL survive!”, the Grateful Dead sang. Indeed. The culture here will survive the warts and shadows. The flag and song will both survive. The nation will survive. And somehow, someway, we will continue to grow towards equality even if ‘justice for all’ seems like a fantasy.

    • art thiel

      Good on you for your historical perspective. You understand that in was played spontaneously at a Yankees game in 1918 to help the mood about our troop commitment to WWI, and wasn’t officially the national anthem until 1931, so it’s not as if it has a Constitution-like weight of history.

      It is a martial/survival song. America the Beautiful is celebratory. But unless either is reserved for special occasions, they become diminished.

      I will join you in presuming survival, although I’m not ready to adopt Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” as the national anthem. I dare anyone hearing it to stand still.

      • Kevin Lynch

        Right, it does not have the merit in composition and prominence such as the Constitution or the Declaration. But it does have the world record price, at auction, for sale of a single piece of printed music, song or instrumental. First edition (1814), initial state, Christy’s, 2009 – $506,000.00. Interestingly, to tie this back to the sporting world, LeBron James has two basketball card issues that have sold for more than $1 million each.

        • art thiel

          Hadn’t heard that one Francis Scott Key is worth half a LeBron James. As a slaveholder, I’m guessing Key would be disappointed.

  • woofer

    “I mean, if Texans didn’t notice the absence, case closed.”

    That is only because Ted Cruz was temporarily delayed in Cancun on family business. He’s back now and on the job.

    • art thiel

      I was worried ICE would separate him from his children at the border, but he beat them to it.

      • Archangelo Spumoni

        Rafael (his actual name) was one of few who fled Tejas for Mexico BECAUSE of ICE.

  • LarryLurex70

    Says quite a lot about ‘merica that it usually takes a white person (or a collective of them) to speak out on a particular issue before “mainstream America” (white people) will pay attention to it enough to move the needle.

    • art thiel

      As John Mellencamp sang, “Ain’t That America.” We’re slow about changing habits, even when they are hurtful/destructive.

  • Mark Stratton

    I still get choked up when I hear the anthem live, but I only go to a few sporting events per non-Covid year. Why keep playing it? I don’t have an answer, but I don’t see a good reason to stop either. I have to agree with Mike Wise; quit playing the anthem now and it will be seen by many fans and sponsors as just another protest The NBA’s coziness with China is enough of a PR problem, they don’t need another.

    • art thiel

      I understand Mike’s point, but when do we start to realize the pointless use cheapens its meaning? And on a higher level. why keep doing it after even Roger Goodell now admits the NFL was wrong about Colin Kaepernick.

      • TimJoFred

        And they continue to be wrong about CK.

        • Husky73

          The same people who were outraged that Colin Kaepernick knelt, beat a police officer to death with an American flag.

          • DB

            A great sound-bite, but ridiculous. ‘People’ didn’t beat a police officer with a flag, and he wasn’t beaten to death. That was the work of an individual nut-job (Peter Stager), who has been appropriately arrested and charged. I don’t believe his views on Kap are known, but obviously, the 2 things have little to do with each other beyond making for a slick statement.

          • Husky73

            Somewhere, James Buchanan is celebrating.

          • DB

            Made me laugh! Good one.

          • tor5

            Many people beat cops with whatever was available, not “an individual.” I guess if they didn’t have flags on their clubs, that’s better (?!) But it’s not too hard to make the connection between the outrage over kneeling for the anthem and the violent mob at the capital. The connection is Trump, who condemned the “sons of bitches” who kneel and then commanded his disciples to fight like hell to “take back our country.” To argue that their “views on Kap are unknown” is pretty strenuous denial of the obvious…much like 47 senators.

  • Kirkland

    A few days after the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in France a few years ago, I was watching on ESPN3 a game from the French domestic rugby competition. Players, officials and fans observed a moment of silence before the match. Then, as the players took the field and got set for the opening kickoff, the fans from both teams erupted into a loud, SPONTANEOUS “a capella” version of “La Marsellaise”, the French anthem. The referee and players waited until after they finished singing before starting play.

    That’s how the anthem should be done. Make it a heartfelt, genuine action instead of a rote routine. It means more that way.

  • DJ

    “The cause of legitimate patriotism is advanced when symbols, rituals and customs are freed from commercialization, commoditization and racism, and allowed to be special, not superfluous.“

    So true!! Thanks for addressing this. Although when attending sports events, I look forward to the moment to honor our country, still get goosebumps, but there are many aspects of the events that do not represent the meanings of the national anthem.

    I would be fine with the national anthem limited to being played at events of organizations that represent those meanings and values.