McGrath: Mark Cuban reminds us it's not just Sterling who's bigoted

Staff writerMay 23, 2014 

Mavericks Spurs Basketball

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban sits on the team's bench prior to Game 5 of the opening-round NBA basketball playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs, Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in San Antonio.

ERIC GAY — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mark Cuban was one of the two NBA owners - the other was Paul Allen - to have voted against the relocation of the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City.

For that reason alone, when the maverick who controls the Dallas Mavericks talks about issues pertinent to his league, it's a good idea to listen.

With a candor best described as gut-wrenching, Cuban admitted Wednesday that while he was inclined to side with his colleagues and vote for the ouster of embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, doing so would make him a hypocrite.

A panel guest at Inc. Magazine's Growco conference Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee, Cuban could have denounced Sterling as an irredeemable racist unfit to own a business in a civilized society and drawn a standing ovation from the audience. It's easier to point a finger at a creepy lecher thousands of miles away than to turn the discussion about intolerance in America toward the mirror.

"We're all prejudiced, " Cuban said, "one way or the other."

The suggestion people are hard-wired to distrust, fear and even hate people of a different race, religion or culture sounds like pessimism at its ultimate.

Cuban looks at it another way: We all have thoughts from time to time, thoughts we realize are contrary to the ideals of a great society. By recognizing those thoughts, by humbly acknowledging our own imperfections, we evolve as human beings capable of compassion, and thus better equipped to function in a world of many races, religions and cultures.

It's pretty heavy stuff, I know, but after weeks of pretending Sterling is the only guy out there who doesn't get it, Cuban decided the time had come to explore the roots of intolerance.

"I know that I'm not perfect, " Cuban said. "I know that I live in a glass house, and it's not appropriate to throw stones. So when I run into bigotry, in organizations I control, I try to find solutions on how to work with people. I'll send them to sensitivity training. I'll try to give them a chance to improve themselves and help them engage with people they may fear or may not understand.

"While we all have our prejudices and bigotries, " Cuban continued, "we have to learn that it's an issue we have to control. It's part of my responsibility, as an entrepreneur, to try to solve it, and not just kick the problem down the road."

Cuban's frank words regarding a sensitive topic - the most sensitive topic there is, really - set him up to be vilified on social media.

An intelligent man who is smarter than his phone (and something of a social-media addict), Cuban had to expect the viral fallout that awaited him.

But he said what everybody else is afraid to say. Instead of reducing the discussion to the dumb-down plane it has been on since Sterling was heard admonishing his girlfriend during a private conversation, Cuban both elevated and dignified it.

Racial tensions in America existed long before Sterling took his first breath, and they'll remain long after he takes his last one.

Sterling is merely an example of a poisonous attitude, but the source of the poison, and how to rid it? That's much more complicated.

Listening to Cuban talk Wednesday about "giving people a chance to improve themselves, " I thought of Ty Cobb, baseball's version of Donald Sterling.

Cobb is remembered 100 years after his prime as an antisocial mad man whose bigotry went far beyond cruel epithets and tasteless jokes.

Born in a rural Georgia town in 1886, one generation removed from the Civil War, Cobb grew up predisposed to regard black people as inferior.

Even though baseball wasn't integrated until 1947 - 19 years after he retired - Cobb is more famous for his intolerance than for being the first player voted into the Hall of Fame.

Dismissing Cobb as a racist crumb has become a convenient way for everybody to take a holier-than-thou attitude about race relations. Cobb's hatred, like Sterling's, was documented.

Pity those fools. I'm OK, and you're OK, right?

Sometime between his 1928 retirement and his 1961 death, Cobb's seemingly implacable attitude changed. He supported Jackie Robinson's successful attempt to break baseball's color line.

A natural-born grump, Cobb was outspoken about how the game changed during the 1950s, when hitting singles and stealing bases took on less importance than two slow guys getting aboard for a slugger intent on crushing a three-run homer.

In one of the final interviews he granted, Cobb noted there was only one player he'd pay to watch: Willie Mays.

Cobb's identification of Mays as a must-see star doesn't excuse him of his reprehensible behavior, of course. It's not a bar of soap.

But he evolved. He grew up in a culture of exclusion, and by the time he died, he embraced inclusion.

Which brings us back to Cuban's remarks in Nashville. The eradication of bigotry, he said, must begin with an earnest examination of the conscience.

Is it too late for Sterling?

It's never too late, for anybody.

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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