United States: Here come the Suns — sports team protests racist law

Sunday, May 9, 2010
Arizonan law SB 1070 makes it a crime to walk the streets of the state without clutching your passport, green card, visa or state ID. Photo: Bebopsmile/Flickr

A battle has been joined for the very soul of Arizona.

On one side, there are the Minutemen, the craven state Republican lawmakers, Governor Jan Brewer, and the utterly unprincipled John McCain, all supporting SB 1070, a law that codifies racial profiling of immigrants in the state.

SB 1070 makes it crime to walk the streets of this state without clutching your passport, green card, visa, or state ID. It not only empowers, but requires cops to demand paperwork if they so much as suspect a person of being undocumented.

The bill also makes it a class one misdemeanor for anyone to “pick up passengers for work” if their vehicle blocks traffic. And it makes a second violation of any aspect of the law a felony.

On the other side of the battle are the residents across the southern states, who protested on May 1, the students who have engaged in walkouts, and the politicians and civic leaders calling for an economic boycott of their own state.

The battle has also been joined in the world of sports.

On one side is Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. Owned by state Republican moneyman Ken Kendrick, the team has drawn protesters to parks around the country.

On the other side, we now have the Phoenix Suns National Basketball League (NBA) team, based in Arizona’s capital of Phoenix. On May 4, the news came forth that on Cinco de Mayo [May 5 — a day celebrating Mexican pride and heritage], the team would be wearing jerseys that said simply Los Suns.

Team owner Robert Sarver said, after talking to the team, that this would be an act of solidarity against the bill. Their opponents, the San Antonio Spurs, made clear that they supported the gesture.

In a statement released by the team, Sarver said: “The frustration with the federal government's failure to deal with the issue of illegal immigration resulted in passage of a flawed state law.

“However intended, the result of passing this law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question, and Arizona's already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when the state can ill-afford them.”

He told reporters: “I looked around our plane and looked at our players and the diversity in our organization. I thought we need to go on record that we honor our diversity in our team, in the NBA and we need to show support for that.

“As for the political part of that, that's my statement. There are times you need to stand up and be heard. I respect people's views on the other side but I just felt it was appropriate for me to stand up and make a statement.”

After Sarver spoke out, the team chimed in against the passage and signing of SB 1070.

Steve Nash, who in 2003 became the first athlete to go on record against the Iraq war, said: “I think the law is very misguided. I think it is unfortunately to the detriment to our society and our civil liberties and I think it is very important for us to stand up for things we believe in.

“I think the law obviously can target opportunities for racial profiling. Things we don’t want to see and don’t need to see in 2010.”

All-Star power forward Amare Stoudamire also chimed: “It’s going to be great to wear Los Suns to let the Latin community know we’re behind them 100 percent.”

After the story broke, I spoke on the phone with NBA Players Association President Billy Hunter about the Suns’ audacious move.

“It’s phenomenal”, he said. “This makes it clear to me that it's a new era.

“It's a new time. Athletes can tend to be apolitical and isolated from the issues that impact the general public. But now here come the Suns.”

He said that the union would have their own statement out by the end of the week.

This kind of political intervention by a sports team is without precedent and now every athlete and every team has an opening to stand up and be heard.

Because when it’s all said and done, this isn't just a battle for the soul of Arizona. It’s a battle for the soul of the United States.

Here come the Suns indeed.

[Abridged from Edgeofsports.com.]

From GLW issue 836