The words were filled with context and steeped with insight. The words came from a respected businessman with no documented history of bias.
But no how much you dressed them up, they were still words of racial stereotyping. Coming from the owner of a professional sports team, particularly in this current Donald Sterling-shrouded climate, they were words that should not go unchallenged.
Less than a month after Sterling rocked the sports world with racist remarks, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has openly acknowledged his own prejudices.
In an videotaped interview with Inc. Magazine Wednesday, Cuban casually tossed out stereotypes as if discussing the weather. He said he was just bringing honesty to our national discussion on race, but since when does honesty give someone a free ticket to ignorance? One hopes NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will ignore the intentions of the messenger and focus on the danger of the message.
"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 toward," Cuban told the magazine in the videotaped interview. "We've come a long way and with that progress comes a price. We're a lot more vigilant and we're a lot less tolerant of different views, and it's not necessarily easy for everybody to adapt or evolve."
Cuban then discussed his own views in startling terms.
"I mean, we're all prejudiced in one way or another," he said. "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. And the list goes on of stereotypes we all live up to and are fearful of."
Cuban then tries to justify his remarks in a way that actually defends the actions of Sterling, and makes one wonder if he will be the one owner who is arrogantly dumb enough to vote against stripping Sterling of his team.
"So in my business, I try not to be hypocritical," Cuban said. "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."
Somewhat surprisingly, whereas Sterling's comments were universally met with outrage, Cuban's comments did little more than raise the eyebrows of a sports world that is apparently sick of mucking around in the messy pit of race relations and willing to ignore ignorance if it will lead to intelligent discussion. There was initially no comment from the NBA office, nor harsh words from NBA leaders.
But Cuban's words drift far too close to Donald Sterling for comfort. By acknowledging a fear of a "black kid in a hoodie … late at night," Cuban is admitting he would be wary of many of his own players and fans simply because of their skin color and wardrobe. He is essentially saying he would be fearful of honor students walking to their cars on a chilly Dallas night if they were black and wearing sweat shirts. The leap from that viewpoint to Sterling's dislike for having blacks at his basketball games might seem large, unless you're one of those kids huddling against the cold.
The nation has seen what happens when someone buys into these fears, witness the 2012 Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, an incident that sparked national outrage. That hoodie that has Cuban so afraid is the same piece of clothing worn by the unarmed teenager Martin when he was shot to death by a frightened neighborhood watch volunteer, and later worn by players from the Miami Heat as a sign of protest against the shooting.
Cuban used his Twitter account Thursday to publicly apologize to the Martin family, writing, "In hindsight I should have used different examples. I didn't consider the Trayvon Martin family, and I apologize to them for that."
But in the next set of messages, he defended his initial comments, writing, "Beyond apologizing to the Martin family, I stand by the words and substance of the interview. I think that helping people improve their lives, helping people engage with people they may fear or may not understand, and helping people realize that while we all may have our prejudices and bigotries, we have to learn that it's an issue that we have to control, that it's part of my responsibility as an entrepreneur to try to solve it."
The idea of helping people learn from their bigotries is a noble one, but does not excuse the teacher's own bigotries, especially since Cuban is the owner of a team in a predominantly African American league that has already banned one of its owners for life for his own prejudices.
No, Cuban is not Donald Sterling, he doesn't have Sterling's racist past, and his comments were no way comparable to Sterling's history of hate. No, Cuban doesn't need to be banned or broken, but his league can't shrug away the racial stereotyping in his words, no matter how mild they might seem, no matter how little criticism they have garnered.