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Those paying attention would have noticed something missing at the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks’ home games this season: The national anthem wasn’t played before the start of the game.

But, as it turned out, few were paying attention.

It took 11 games before anyone clued into the fact that the Mavs were defying one of the great rituals of the American experience – standing for The Star Spangled Banner. It took the annoying iconoclast who owns the team, Mark Cuban, to decide it was time to re-evaluate the anthem’s contentious presence at U.S. sporting events.

It’s difficult to overstate how significant this move was. While the singing of their anthem has often seemed to be a cringe-inducing display of jingoism, it allows Americans to feel good about themselves, to pump their chests up a little.

Except most of those who might have felt that pride of place were predominantly white. Many Black Americans have no such feeling of gratefulness. For what? The prejudice and bigotry they endure each day? The police brutality that is too often an intrinsic part of their lived experiences?

While Black athletes had used the anthem to cast the spotlight on these grievances over the years, it was NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during the anthem in 2016 that incited a broad backlash by white America. For his perceived betrayal, he was effectively black-balled from the NFL by the league’s mostly white owners.

George Floyd’s murder last summer, and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, ignited a fresh round of anthem protests among athletes of all races. Amid the pandemic, and because most teams were playing games without fans, the NBA said it would not impose edicts around pre-game ceremonies. Teams could do what they wished before tip-off. Mr. Cuban took this as an opportunity to kill the anthem.

“The National Anthem Police in this country are out of control,” Mr. Cuban said on Twitter at the time. “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.”

It was true. The anthem isn’t played at most other places Americans gathered. It isn’t played at movie theatres or concerts. It first took prominence during the World Series in 1918, when it was performed as a tribute to American lives lost during the First World War. It became firmly entrenched as part of pre-game ceremonies across all major sports in the Vietnam War era of the 1960s.

There is no question that there have been moments when it has seemed appropriate: at Yankee Stadium after 9/11, anytime the U.S. hosted the Olympics or at Super Bowls, given the unique place that the once-a-year game occupies in the American psyche. But its omnipresence long ago undermined its value. It was inevitable that Black athletes, who had few other platforms available, would use it as a vehicle to protest racial injustice.

Once Mr. Cuban’s decision was discovered by the masses, it didn’t take long for the outrage to follow. It was an affront to military veterans. Republican politicians suggested Mr. Cuban was a traitor to his country. There were the usual threats to boycott Mavericks games. Okay, maybe Texas wasn’t the best state in which to test pilot this particular initiative.

Even for a league as enlightened as the NBA, it was too much. On Wednesday evening, they ordered all teams to play the anthem before games – even in the many stadiums without any fans in attendance because of the COVID-19 pandemic that overwhelmed the outmatched country. Mr. Cuban folded as easily as a pair of worn-out gym shorts.

In no one is the hypocrisy of this moment more embodied than the president who oversaw that botched pandemic response, Donald J. Trump.

It was Mr. Trump who unleashed a disgusting torrent of abuse against Mr. Kaepernick and his supporters who sat or kneeled during the anthem, calling them unpatriotic “sons of bitches.” This, from the man who went on to incite a riot on the U.S. Capitol.

Think about this: Many of those who cheered Mr. Trump’s condemnation of Mr. Kaepernick were almost assuredly among the “patriots” who, furious with then-vice president Mike Pence and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, chanted “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.” as they breached the doors of the Capitol on Jan. 6 with menace in their eyes.

And yet somehow, it’s Black athletes kneeling during the national anthem who are the problem.

Anyway, all is good in America again. The anthem will be played at basketball games, so that the few fans in attendance will be able to put their hands on their hearts and pretend they live in a nation still worth envying.

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