Cuban, Cruz feud highlights a new era of sports debate

·5 min read

A billionaire NBA owner and a U.S. Senator argued on Twitter Monday.

It was ostensibly about sports but it quickly broke into a game of cable news bingo, with the two sides bringing up the national anthem, Hong Kong protests, Black Lives Matter, Uyghur internment camps, pandemic responses and, of course, Donald Trump.

In the end, nothing was agreed upon other than both sides accusing the other of being a hypocrite and a coward. It was typical Twitter. The only casualty was proper punctuation. Grammar didn’t fare much better. Even the rich and educated butcher those, apparently.

Mark Cuban and Ted Cruz aren’t your typical Americans and their argument will soon fade like all social media kerfuffles, just a couple of Texans blowing off steam on a hot summer afternoon.

Yet in their own weird way they represent the current heartbeat of the country, where everything is an impassioned fight. It’s one reason the disconnect between quickly changing institutions (including sports teams such as Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks) and the part of the public set in their ways seems to be growing.

As sports slowly return, the contention is everywhere and it’s unlikely either side is backing down.

(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports illustration)

The scrap started when Cuban responded to a Dallas radio host who said he wouldn’t support the Mavericks again if any of the players took a knee as a measure of protest during the pregame national anthem.

“Bye,” Cuban tweeted. “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.”

Cruz quickly jumped in and declared: “Really??!? NBA is telling everyone who stands for the flag, who honors our cops and our veterans, to 'piss off'? In Texas, no less? Good luck with that.”

That tweet got back to Cuban, who ripped Cruz for lacking the courage to tag him in the tweet — “Have some balls for once @tedcruz. Speak to me. It’s my tweet.”

(This is what passes for modern Texas frontier justice, apparently.)

Cruz did respond to Cuban and called him out for the NBA’s relative silence toward the government of China, particularly protests in Hong Kong.

“Speaking of balls, tell us what you think about China. I’ll wait.” Cuban soon linked a video of him criticizing China but noted that he doesn’t like getting involved in foreign affairs when there are so many issues here in America and, well, it just continued. Cuban declared “Black Lives Matter.” Cruz was more into “Free Hong Kong.”

It’s unlikely a single mind was changed, anywhere.

This is where we are at. In the United States, in general and in sports in particular. Cuban’s initial response was the most telling — if you don’t want to support his team if any of the players kneel for the anthem, then he is boldly showing you the door.

Not long ago, leagues and teams feared such fan defections and certainly didn’t invite them. That was then. Now they are rewriting the rules of engagement and don’t seem to care who is troubled by it.

If they lose customers (and they will) then that’s that. If they have to fight with the junior senator from their own state, then bring it on. Welcome to 2020.

NASCAR finally got around to banning the confederate flag at its track. It has shrugged off planes tugging it overhead and has stood in unison behind the Cup Series’ only Black driver, Bubba Wallace, who received some boos last week during introductions and some cheers when he wrecked.

The NBA will allow select social justice messages on the back of player uniforms, will have “Black Lives Matter” painted near the court and will likely see its first anthem protests when it returns to play later this month. It doesn’t seem to care if some fans bail.

The NFL, which was in a panic back in 2016 and 2017 when small numbers of players knelt during the anthem (prompting withering attacks from Trump) now appears ready to let the protests happen. Player participation is expected to be considerable. Coaches are even vowing to join them.

It’s a whole new world.

For the fans who don’t like it, they’ll either have to adjust or take their entertainment dollar elsewhere. It’s going to be part of the fan experience going forward.

A lack of fans in the stands and the unusual timing of games due to the pandemic will make it difficult (if not impossible) to measure the fallout.

Is the reaction big or small? Are lots of old fans now trying to “cancel culture” the NBA or NFL? Or is it mostly the loudest voices that get heard on social media or comment sections — an army of Ted Cruz disciples? Will new fans emerge to replace them?

The teams and leagues seem to think they can weather the backlash. Or they think the threats are overblown and, in the end, the chance to watch Patrick Mahomes or LeBron James or a four-wide down the backstretch at Daytona is enough to retain fans.

Or maybe the leagues and teams are going to do what they think is right, regardless of the consequences.

We’ll see, but as Cuban and Cruz went back and forth, the battle lines became more clear.

In this most unusual year for sports in America, things are only heating up.

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