Mark Cuban isn’t in hot water, but he sure stirred the pot.
Bigotry is still an open wound on the NBA after Donald Sterling’s abhorrent comments got him banned for life.
Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, touched upon that raw area last week with a bold, candid interview with Inc. Magazine in which he acknowledges his own prejudices.
Naturally, the first reaction for many was to recoil, as anyone with a fresh wound would do.
But should we?
When does sensitivity go from being a virtue to a vice that keeps honest dialogue locked up?
The following quote from Cuban drew the most attention: “I mean, we’re all prejudiced in one way or another. 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. And 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.”
Cuban later apologized for evoking the image of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager who wore a hoodie when he was killed by security guard George Zimmerman in 2012.
But to focus on that particular image distracts from Cuban’s main and very valid point — We all carry prejudices. It’s up to each of us to acknowledge that and improve if we’re to further evolve as a society.
Most of our prejudices sprout during our adolescent years, before we have the life experience of being exposed to people unlike ourselves.
Part of that life experience is having candid conversations that open our eyes to our own misconceptions.
That’s difficult in the age of the Internet, where there’s always a knee-jerk reaction waiting to condemn anything remotely provocative.
But sports can play a role in offering depth and substance to the conversation. Thanks to the large presence of minorities, conversations about race are never far from the surface.
That’s why Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is the most fascinating pro athlete in sports today. After his famous outburst after the NFC Championship, “thug” was one of the least slanderous terms thrown his way.
The backlash to Sherman’s rant, however, brought his true story to national attention – a young man from a poor Los Angeles neighborhood who graduated high school second in his class, then earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford in three years before pursuing a master’s degree. He has never been in trouble with the law and is one of the most active Seahawks in charitable causes.
It’s the type of story that should make people reconsider their preconceptions.
So let the conversation about race continue. Let it be humble and sincere, but let’s not be quick to judge and condemn anyone who honestly bares their beliefs.
It might just be an opportunity to help someone evolve. If not, as Cuban said, there is still value in letting everyone speak.
“I’m the one guy who says don’t force stupid people to be quiet,” he said. “I want to know who the morons are.”