Professional sports teams in Texas will lose out on government funding if they fail to play the national anthem before the start of every home game, per a new law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Wednesday, months after the Dallas Mavericks drew scorn from Republicans by briefly taking the song out of its pregame festivities.
Starting in September, the law — known as SB4 — will require all new financial contracts between professional sports teams and government agencies to include a “written verification” promising to play the national anthem at the teams’ home stadiums.
If teams violate these written agreements, their contracts with the government will go into default, possibly leading to financial penalties.
The law doesn’t mention any specific agreements between teams and the government, but it’s fairly common for state and local governments in Texas and elsewhere to lease publicly owned sports stadiums to teams or underwrite arenas’ construction costs.
The bill was passed by the state Senate and House in April and May, respectively.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) backed the idea after Mavericks owner Mark Cuban confirmed that his team didn’t play the national anthem for the first 13 games of this season: “Mark Cuban’s actions … made it clear that we must specify that in Texas we play the national anthem before all major events,” Patrick told local news outlets in February.
Critics like Rep. Gene Wu (D) called the law “openly and aggressively unconstitutional,” argued the national anthem will be less meaningful if it’s mandatory, and pointed out that most pro sports teams — including the Mavericks — already play the song voluntarily.
“The stadiums, subsidized by the taxpayers, which host the Mavericks should either condemn [Cuban’s] anti-American decisions and override him; or, return all tax subsidies they have received,” Rep. Dustin Burrows (R), one of the bill’s sponsors, tweeted in February.
“I believe the national anthem is even more meaningful when it is played freely, not as a result of legal compulsion,” Rep. John Turner (D) wrote in a statement last month. “SB4 would change our anthem from something that is played and sung voluntarily at professional sporting events to something that is done because it is mandated by law.”
The Mavericks’ national anthem fracas was short-lived. The team agreed to start playing the song again just one day after Cuban’s decision was first reported in February, a move Cuban said was prompted by some community members’ concerns that “the national anthem did not fully represent them.” Plus, fans probably didn’t notice the song’s 13-game absence because the Mavericks’ stadium was still closed to spectators due to Covid-19 at the time. But the decision earned rebukes from Texas Republicans, fitting into years of arguments over the place of the “Star Spangled Banner” in American sports. NBA and NFL players have sporadically protested systemic racism by kneeling during the national anthem, drawing consternation from conservatives and prompting former President Donald Trump to threaten to take away “massive tax breaks” for the NFL.
Texas isn’t the only state to pass legislation on the national anthem. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed a law earlier this week requiring sports teams to play the song, but unlike Texas’ law, it doesn’t spell out repercussions for teams that don’t abide by the policy.