DALLAS — I am walking down the same side of the street with Mark Cuban in this argument. And that makes me almost as uncomfortable as the Mavericks’ owner apparently gets when he sees that “black kid in a hoodie.”
I enjoy sparring with Cuban. I am still appalled at his constant ref-baiting 14 years after buying the team. I thought he would calm down after winning a championship, and while I applaud him for his passion, I just think it sends every wrong signal an owner can possibly send to his players.
But that’s an awfully minor basketball disagreement in the grand scheme of things. On the larger issue of race, brought to the forefront in sports by the recorded ramblings of Clippers owner Donald Sterling, Cuban has strayed from the mainstream thinking. And I have agreed with him every step of the way.
I’m not sure if you could have been awake Thursday and missed reports or clips of Cuban’s interview with Inc. in Nashville, one in which he talked openly and honestly about race and how he handles situations if employees demonstrate any form of prejudice.
Ninety percent of it was as tame a discussion as you could have on this subject.
But Cuban made one remark that shoved the Spurs and Yu Darvish and all other contenders to the rear of the sports-talk bus Thursday.
“If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street,” Cuban said.
He went on to say that if he encountered a white guy with shaved head and tattoos on that side, he would walk back across the street again. Didn’t matter. The “damage,” if we can honestly call it that, had been done.
By 10 a.m., at least one ESPN analyst was talking about what sort of punishment Cuban should face for his remarks.
Do what now?
First of all, Cuban was merely discussing his personal point of view. It’s one that must be shared with millions by the way. Aren’t any of us who find ourselves on unfamiliar streets late at night on the alert to avoid trouble?
And we all imagine trouble in our own ways.
Cuban’s imagery, of course, evoked memories of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, but the Mavericks’ owner didn’t say he would shoot him. He didn’t say he would call the police on him. He said he would walk out of his way to avoid him.
Thursday afternoon, Cuban issued an apology to Martin’s family on Twitter, saying he should have used a different example and wasn’t referring to that situation. He also said he stood by everything else said in the interview.
If we can’t even allow an honest expression such as that, should any public figure ever open his or her mouth on a controversial topic again?
The most important thing I heard Cuban say was that society has become less tolerant of conflicting points of view. If a person says anything that goes against the grain of conventional thinking, a discussion on the proper punishment will soon follow.
Cuban declined to reveal which way he would vote on the NBA’s attempt to remove Sterling from the Clippers. I have said I thought NBA commissioner Adam Silver went too far in his lifetime ban, that even a shorter suspension would have done the job because sponsors, fans, players and even his ownership partners would have abandoned the Clippers’ ship.
Money talks. It always does. The market would have taken its course, and it would not have taken long.
If hateful remarks made in private can remove owners from their teams, does anyone really believe that only Sterling is in jeopardy in professional sports? As skilled a litigator as he and the people around him have been through the years, don’t you imagine Sterling can find smoking guns on others if he chooses?
By even doing the interview with Inc. and providing honest answers, Cuban has traveled down the “slippery slope” he mentioned in his first comments on the Sterling tapes last month.
And that’s a shame. What you learn from what happened Thursday is that keeping your mouth shut is the most acceptable form of communication on all matters of social relevance.
“While we all have our prejudices and bigotries, we have to learn that it’s an issue that we have to control ... not just kick the problem down the road,” Cuban said.
But honest expressions that may conflict with someone’s version of the “right” side of an issue? Those are best kept to yourself.
Maybe the only thing George Orwell got wrong in his powerful censorship warning, 1984, was the year. Remember the slogans on that book’s Ministry of Truth: War Is Peace. Freedom Is Slavery. Ignorance Is Strength.
The last one in particular seems fitting today. Take a sound-byte and run with it rather than even consider the context in which something is said and whether or not there might be value in an open discussion on the topic.
The selective listening of 2014 is its own form of censorship.