Couch: Sorry, But When It Comes To The National Anthem, Just Do It

It’s hard to know where NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s heart is. Just call me suspicious. A day after the NBA said Mark Cuban could have his way and silence the National Anthem before Dallas Mavericks games, Silver strongly came out insisting that at NBA games, they do play the anthem.

Cuban relented. And now all the followers in the flock of sports media and the reactionary social media types are filled with anger about Silver and what a coward he is, how insensitive, how important it is -- in some way -- not to play the anthem for social justice.

So let me just say this: Silver did exactly the right thing. What made him do it? Well, that’s another topic. I’ll get there in a minute. But start with this: 

“We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country,’’ Cuban said in a statement on Wednesday, before Silver slapped him down. “But we also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them.’’

I’m sorry, but what? Who does the anthem not represent?

Cuban isn’t wrong that people feel disenfranchised. This is a country with a lot of problems, but the idea is to work to make things better. And you can’t do that by saying “This doesn’t represent me.’’ 

It does. This is the country. The anthem represents the country. It’s not just for people who think it’s perfect and want to cheer --- rah-rah. It’s actually FOR the people who want to criticize it. It’s a patriotic act to try to make the country better.

To just say the anthem doesn’t represent me isn't patriotic. If Cuban is trying to make the country better, good for him. Washing your hands of it and saying “This isn’t mine’’? That’s not helping anything.

So if Cuban is trying to listen to athletes who want to stand up for something or to take a knee or make public service announcements or get out the vote or anything like that. . .

Exactly why are they able to do those things, say those things, take those stances? It’s exactly because the anthem does represent them. 

It’s an awfully specific and concrete action to stop singing the anthem.

“The National Anthem Police in this country are out of control,’’ Cuban tweeted. “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.’’

So Cuban wasn’t OK hearing the voices of people who disagreed with him? He wanted them to go somewhere else? He not only wanted to silence the anthem but also the people who disagree with him about it?

On most things, I tend to agree with Cuban. This time, he picked the wrong time and wrong place. And thank God Silver was there to look deep in his heart and. . .

Hah! I almost got through that sentence. Why do I have the feeling that Silver called the board at Nike and asked them to please tell him what his conscience is saying?

This is all connected to last season’s excessive social justice presence in the NBA, putting Black Lives Matter messages all over everything. Not coincidentally, the NBA then followed with record low TV ratings.

The NBA has always stood for social change. But at the end of the season, Silver said that while the social justice messaging wouldn’t be silenced, it might be lessened.

The BLM approach was surely approved all the way by Nike, which corporatized a human movement to look cool, not to mention distract attention from its own horrifying social justice record of using slave labor to make shoes in China. So supporting a cause was great for Nike.

But Cuban took it to another level. The NBA first seemed to endorse Cuban’s move by saying that pre-game shows in a pandemic are up to the teams. The next day, Wednesday, suddenly, everyone was going to play the anthem.


And why is that? Well, I’m not in the boardroom, of course. But something tells me that was a step too far for Nike, not only using slaves in China but also canceling the national anthem. Try to sell that message. People might start buying Adidas.

Silver’s move was about NBA preservation. You see, the more specific, more concrete a protest is, the more difficult it becomes for corporate America to sign on. They want to look progressive and hip but at the same time not turn off too many people.

So while the NBA was pushing Black Lives Matter, the NFL more intelligently pushed End Racism. It was basically the same point, but it was made in a way that would be hard to argue with.

The truth is, I don’t really know why they play the national anthem at our sporting events anyway. I think sports leagues wanted to push America during war time, and then it sort of stuck. The Chicago Cubs used to refuse to play the anthem, as the owners at the time, the Wrigley gum family, felt it trivialized an important song to connect it to a baseball game.

They eventually gave in in the late 1960s because they said it was wartime. Vietnam.

By now, our sports leagues have made the anthem part of their sales pitch. They have turned sports into a part of Americana and packaged the whole thing. The NFL thinks it’s a branch of the military all to itself.

But at this point, too many people are just hanging on mentally, financially. And maybe we could just enjoy a ballgame without being clubbed over the head with all of our problems.

So Silver did the right thing. I’d like to offer a heartfelt thanks. . .

To Nike.

Written by
Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in and The Guardian. Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.