Mark Cuban's Misplaced Apology

The Mavericks owner regrets his homophobic humor, but is it really all about him?
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Mark Cuban has apologized. Not in the way Rush Limbaugh, who attempted to distance himself from a few key words but not their meaning, did. Cuban, guilty of cracking a decidedly tame joke about homo-moments on the Kiss Cam during the Sloan Conference of Important Sports Ideas and Equally Important Sports People, opted for soul-searching. Rush lost the tip of his spear but soldiered on. Cuban, criticized rightly for an idiotic aside, decided it was time to look deep within himself and confront his latent prejudices. That's how a quip—albeit one tacky enough that ESPN tried to suppress it—turned into a post titled "Am I a Homophobe?"

While Cuban unmistakably had the greater corporate good in mind, there's a flatulent sincerity to it that's hard to resist, or stand for very long. Maybe Mark Cuban really has never conducted an inventory of his personal biases; he wouldn't be the first vaguely progressive and somewhat dense, dude to make the leap from unreflective, casual "haha you're totally gay" statements to "who am I, really?" self-examination. What’s troubling is that about Cuban isolated the incident, making it about him instead of paying the slightest bit of attention to the circumstances surrounding his offense.

If you haven't heard, the major sports of this land have yet to come to terms with queerness. It's hard to tell whether we're dealing with a spectrum, or several otherwise disconnected hubs. But as a cultural "space," the sports that matter are totally cool with calling people "faggot” and  worrying about a gay teammate’s gaze in the showers. You could make a pretty strong argument that sports culture feeds these myths as much as it is influenced by them. None of this is news. Mark Cuban isn't a homophobe, he's just trying to fit in with a sector of American culture where dudes kissing dudes is somewhere between demeaning and terrifying.

Cuban's self-flagellation totally missed his mark. He could have blamed sports for this uncontrollable itch to bro down at the expense of others, and even critically examined this tendency. Instead, "sports" appeared in his post only twice, and in the most literal kind of context: "I was at a sports conference." Ironically, the NBA, Cuban’s arena, is one of only two major sports leagues (the NHL being the other) to take any sort of public stand against homophobia, no matter how unthinking.

Over the weekend, USA Today quoted two NCAA officials calling John Calipari's one-and-done compact a scourge of college sports. Calipari, asked to comment without knowing the speakers’ identites, grabbed the third rail without flinching: "I bet you they're white. And I bet you they don't say a word about golf or tennis … and that's all I'll say." Steve Wieberg, the story's author, attempts to walk back Cal's declamation, or provide the perhaps too-obvious reasoning behind it. Calipari offers an NBA finishing school for kids who have a realistic shot at a professional basketball career. For a kid whose gifts are beyond dispute, and who may have an immediate need for money (not to mention, a chance to make more money than other college students eyeing the job market), Cal is a godsend. Maybe he bastardizes the concept of the "student-athlete," instead manufacturing students of athletics; then again, if the alternative is the blind leap of preps-to-pros, then Kentucky is still a form of responsible patronage—better than a naive, or shameless, endorsement of amateurism.

Class figures prominently in this analysis, and yes, when we talk about basketball players, it's virtually impossible to not see race-as-culture, and culture-on-race, entering the picture. Calipari, though, went on the offensive, daring the NCAA to prove that it wasn't treating black kids, and the sports they play at a high level, differently.

It's not quite trolling—I don't quite think that "trolling," once an internet-specific practice, need now refer to the kind of real-world incident that "trolling" imitated in the crudest possible way (see also: "brand")—but Cal's rhetorical gauntlet will stir his supporters, leave his critics tripping over themselves to deflect the accusation, and most importantly, further the cred he has among would-be players. Calipari is, in his own way, an idealist. He just happens to believe fervently in his right to take advantage of a fucked-up situation. He's the mirror image of the NCAA, which insists on putting forth principles and then turning a blind eye to their consequences.

Calipari invoked race, knowing full well that it would get people's attention. There's more measured way of explaining the conflict between his program and the NCAA, but in this fight for the moral high ground, going for the jugular is sometimes the most effective strategy. It's directness as a form of obfuscation, the same approach that Mark Cuban unwittingly danced himself into. The difference is, Calipari can bring up race while neatly implying a panic-free version of his position—a safety net, if you will. In Cuban’s case, the insistence on pushing the big picture as far away as possible is the safe move. Taking the fall himself, which can easily be mistaken for honesty, is an evasion.


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Comments

I appreciate the attempt to add some complexity to both of these issues, but I think you have overlooked a lot in Cal's comments.

Cal is suggesting that these officials must be racist because they are not making the same criticism of golf or tennis.

But the early entry situation in golf and tennis is completely different. There is no one-and-done rule. Most top players go pro at 17 or 18 and bypass college. Very few leave college early to go pro. In the current men's top 100 in tennis, there is only one player who left college to go pro--James Blake from Harvard. After the end of the 2012 draft, Calipari by himself will have produced 15 early entrants from Kentucky. Does Calipari really think that the Kentucky's men's basketball team is doing the same thing as the Harvard tennis team or the Stanford golf team, who produce maybe a couple early entrants every ten years? Of course not. His comments were disingenuous. He is playing the race card in order to deflect criticism.

Do you know what Cal did when he first arrived at Kentucky? He kicked four of the team's existing players out of the school in order to make way for his one-and-dones. All of the ejected students had been offered four-year scholarships by the previous coach. All were students in good standing. And all were African-American. For him to pose as some kind of guardian of the interests of black youth is weaselly and gross.

Cal has gamed the system expertly, but he provides no social purpose. He is not a "godsend" to these players. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Love seemed to do just fine without Cal. Wall could've spent the year playing YMCA ball and still gotten drafted.

Cal's needs them a lot more than they need him.

Jokes In Hindi

On a crowded bus, one man noticed that another man had his eyes closed.
“What’s the matter? Are you sick?” he asked.

“No, I’m okay. It’s just that I hate to see old ladies standing.”

A tourist from London comes to visit India and he sees a villager.

He asks a question to him:
Tourist: Any great men born in this village?
Villager: No sir, only small babies!!!

I don't think this is really fair to Mark Cuban. What more can he be asked to do? Can we really expect a man who is widely regarded as a loud-mouthed frat boy by the majority of the media and establishment to seize hold of a teachable moment and start hacking away at the supports of prejudice in the NBA?

Cuban is smart. He knows he hasn't been the kind of guy who leads by example. He clearly wants to eradicate homophobia in the NBA, and his (somewhat boorish) blog post demonstrates that, albeit ham-handedly. For him to try to become the poster boy for fighting prejudice would come across as hypocritical and naive. He knows that he can only lead by example, rather than trying to rally a movement across the NBA after a joke about Bill Simmons' boyfriend.

He could acknowledge that his behavior is in some way connected to the stuff surrounding sports. That Grant Hill ad at least shows how homophobia is embedded in sports. This could have been written by anyone who slipped up and said a bad thing. Leading by example is fine, but he makes it about the general whole wide world. Would it have killed him to say "we do this a lot in sports?"

I think Cuban didn't say "we do this a lot in sports" because this is, for him, something that he does outside of sports just as much as he does within it. To imply that Cuban picked up the parlances and quick jokes of homophobia because he spends time around people in the NBA feels very backwards to me. Cuban has owned the team for 13 years now; he was alive for 42 years before that. Moreover, even a super-involved owner like Cuban doesn't spend every waking moment surrounded by basketball-ops people (players and coaches, the major culprits of entrenched basketball thought and therefore the residence of homophobia). He has a number of other business involvements that take up much of his time. Cuban is a businessman much more than he is a sports figure- we just associate his public image directly with the Mavs.

I think the truth behind Cuban's reflexive gay joke comes more from the fact that he was chatting with Bill Simmons in a relaxed and friendly environment. It seemed like the kind of joke you would make to your buddies anywhere, and like the kind of thing Cuban probably says behind closed doors to his close friends and even probably some of his colleagues at work. It is true that sports does inculcate homophobia into many people's worldviews. But to me, even though sport is a major part of both Simmons' and Cuban's lives as well as the Sloan conference itself, the topic of sports seems very tangential to the actual context of the comment. The same joke could have been made if the two men were discussing music, or business, or any other number of topics.

You're right, it would be wrong to suggest that Cuban learned this behavior exclusively from sports (at least to any greater extent than any other average dude does). But I'm sorry, if the context is a bunch of people immersed in sports, who see Cuban as special because of sports, and the conversation is with someone who has made career out of blurring the line between sports and all other parts of life/the world, who knows Cuban through sports ... how is this not a reflection on this common ground, and the kind of male behavior that it condones?

I'm just uncomfortable with the easy "correlation-to-causality"-esque feeling about the whole analysis. It probably doesn't help my cause that Cuban just tweeted a couple hours ago "I love the sport of business... The feeling of the clock winding down, every day..." and you're also right to point out that sports resides very close to the heart of nearly all male behavior and interaction (except, of course, for the interaction of intercourse).

I guess my biggest problem here is that there is nothing intrinsically homophobic about sports, nor should there be. Rather, sport has been co-opted to present a hetero male archetype, one who achieves in the face of adversity, to stand in contrast to an effeminate homosexual foil. My analogy would be that of Southern Jim Crow laws in the early 20th century. Jim Crow laws were enacted once the North stopped the hand-wringing that was Reconstruction and lost interest in the general welfare of blacks in the South. Prejudice towards former slaves was still as prevalent in Southern culture as it had been before the war, and the Southern citizens used their legal code to attempt to restore that order. Those laws evolved as our culture evolved; the more uneasy we became with the concept of racism, the more convoluted the laws became in their rationalizations (notably, the concept of "separate yet equal").

The Jim Crow laws were racist, but they were not the cause of racism; outlawing them was in no way the swift and righteous beginning of a post-racial society. The prejudices come from other places, and we use our cultural institutions (like sports) to attempt to explain and rationalize them. One can recall a time when we talked about "Great White Hopes" in boxing and the like, or when we attempted to explain that the prevalence of African Americans in the NBA was somehow due to a nauseating "selective breeding" of slaves (which didn't even actually exist; slaveholders were more likely to buy new slaves than to spend 20 years raising their own). We have similar myths in sports today regarding gays, assuming them to be less masculine and therefore less physically able to perform. There is no reason why a gay male would be unable to rise to the top of sport, the ultimate meritocracy. When that day comes, Americans will no longer be able to use sport to tell themselves lies about gays any longer.

But to add something to Mr. Pavlovsky's comment, it's a shame that reconstruction was as weak as it was. If Lincoln hadn't been assassinated, the south's greatest victory of that war, reconstruction would have been so much stronger and there is some chance that blacks would have been integrated into the country as something much closer to equals than they are now.

And there is a strong feeling that American's became concerned with racism at the time when the country was trying to win over the third world in its campaign against the soviets, and with soviet ideology. It's enough to make you make the expression in this emoticon :-/

~~
To address the article itself:
As for Cuban, his blog post was so self serving and gross. The whole tone is so typical of the post modern businessman. He explains that he doesn't give a shit about your sexual orientation, race etc. What Mark? You're a neoliberal billionaire who views human beings as atomized data with a specific set of spending money? Waa!!?!

There is nothing more offensive then his implication that he is some unexamined boob who'd never thought about identity before. It's just a way of saving his business-face, or as everyone with any possible connection to the nba says, "it's just a brand of branding brand's brand-brand."

His contemporary 40 year old billionaire expression of general derision about homosexuals is just how his generation and tax bracket expresses general disdain for gays as a group. An 80 year old owner might say "I don't want any fucking queers on my squad or my staff." Just because it doesn't sound as bad doesn't mean it doesn't come from the same place, and his fake soul searching falls as flat as an 80 year old's press conference form apology.

Conclusion:
Maybe Mark should hire 14 assistant politeness, decency, and consideration for the wide range of human identity coaches