Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban spoke about race, bigotry and fear during an interview in Nashville on Wednesday. He declined to declare which way he'll cast his ballot when the NBA's Board of Governors convenes to vote on the ouster of banned-for-life Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and he offered thoughts on racial prejudice — most notably his own — that have raised quite a few eyebrows.
On whether or not he will vote to oust Clippers owner Donald Sterling: You'll find out. I know how I'm going to vote, but I'm not ready to comment on it.
On how to keep bigotry out of the NBA: You don't. There's no law against stupid.
On stupidity in general: I'm the one guy who says don't force the stupid people to be quiet — I want to know who the morons are.
The latter two points echo Cuban's comments after the release of audio recordings featuring the longtime Clippers owner chastising former assistant/alleged girlfriend V. Stiviano for “associating” with minorities, "promoting" said associations by posting pictures she'd taken with black people on her Instagram account, and potentially bringing African-Americans — most notably Los Angeles Lakers legend and Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Magic Johnson — to Clippers home games, among other things.
Cuban initially declined to comment on Sterling or the tapes, saying he shouldn't be focusing on anything other than his Mavericks' first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs. After the Sterling situation became one of the most talked about stories in the country, Cuban spoke about it with reporters, deeming Sterling's comments "abhorrent" and "obviously racist," and saying he trusted Commissioner Adam Silver to "operate under the best interest of the NBA."
Cuban also said that ejecting Sterling from the ranks of ownership based on statements made and thoughts shared in private would position the NBA atop "a very, very slippery slope" when it came to disciplining bigotry and other forms of discrimination because "you can't legislate stupidity." Shortly after Silver announced he'd banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million, Cuban joined the chorus of owners agreeing with the findings of the NBA's investigation into the Sterling tapes and supporting his decision.
Now, the other stuff. Here's a video clip produced by Inc. from Cuban's interview with Maria Aspan:
Here's what Cuban said:
You know, in this day and age, this country has really come a long way. Putting any type of bigotry behind us — regardless of who it's towards, whether it's the LGBT community, whether it's xenophobia, you know, fear of people from other countries — we've come a long way, and with that progress comes a price. We're a lot more vigilant in what we ... and we're a lot less tolerant of different views, and it's not necessarily easy for everybody to adopt, or adapt, or evolve. We're all prejudiced in one way or the other. 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. If on that side of the street, there's a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I'm walking back to the other side of the street. And the list goes on of stereotypes that we all live up to and are fearful of.
And so, in my businesses, I try not to be hypocritical. I know that I'm not perfect. I know that I live in a glass house, and it's not appropriate for me to throw stones. And so when I run into bigotry in organizations I control, I try to, to find solutions. I'll work with people — I'll send them to training, I'll send them to sensitivity training, I'll try to give them a chance to improve themselves. Because I think helping people improve their lives, helping people engage with people they may fear or they may not understand, and helping people realize that, while we all have our prejudices and bigotries, we have to learn that it's an issue that we have to control. That's part of my responsibility as an entrepreneur, to try to solve it, not just to kick the problem down the road. Because it does my company no good, it does my customers no good, it does society no good if my response to somebody and their racism or bigotry is to say, "It's not right for you to be here, go take your attitude somewhere else."
Much of the negative response to Cuban's comments has targeted the sentence, "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," a comment that hits the ear hard even when it's paired with a separate but purportedly equal fear of a heavily tattooed white man. For many, that sentence evoked the image of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Florida high school student fatally shot and killed in February 2012 by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, who told police that he was acting in self-defense. Police found a can of iced tea and a pack of Skittles, but no weapons, on Martin's body. Martin was reportedly wearing a hooded sweatshirt, with the hood up, at the time of his shooting. It was raining. Martin was black. Zimmerman was tried on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter, and was acquitted in July 2013.
As part of a discussion of his comments with ESPN's Bomani Jones on Twitter on Thursday morning, Cuban clarified the point he was trying to make:
. @bomani_jones the point was that before we can help others deal w racism we have to be honest about ourselves.
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) May 22, 2014
That's a fair point. It's also one issued in the context of Mark Cuban acknowledging that the list of stereotypes of which he is fearful includes the one of African-Americans in hoodies. It's a fear, to be sure, that is shared by an awful lot of people, and one that we should really work on eliminating from that list.
There's something to be said for acknowledging our biases rather than pretending they don't exist. There's more to be said about actually trying "to find solutions" to them and "not just ... kick[ing] the problem down the road" by saying that it doesn't do anybody any good for you to say that racists and bigots need to take their racism and bigotry somewhere else. Yes, we all have our prejudices, but acknowledgement of them without ameliorative action doesn't amount to absolution. No, it might not always be easy for everybody to adopt, adapt or evolve, but important things are rarely easy; progress might come with a price, but that price, y'know, buys progress. It's a square deal.
The big picture of Cuban's point, as both an individual and an entrepreneur, seems spot on. It's those finer brushstrokes that could use some work. Here's hoping that someone as smart, thoughtful, powerful and influential as Cuban — and the rest of us, too — devote a little more time and care to making things better.
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