Thursday, May 06, 2010

Los Suns

The Phoenix Suns wore home uniforms emblazoned with "Los Suns" for last night's playoff game against San Antonio. This is something they always do if they play on Cinco de Mayo; last night the team made it a point to let people know it was a subtle form of protest against Arizona's recently enacted immigration law. That's what got people talking about how inappropriate it is for a sports franchise to bring politics into sports.

Oh, please.

Whether the jerseys were a political statement or good business can be debated. I'm sure the Suns have research that shows what percentage of their fan base is Hispanic, or, at least, what percentage of Hispanics they'd like to have as members of their fan base. No one seems to mind when the San Diego Padres wear cammo unis to show their support for the large military contingent in the San Diego area. The only difference lies in the fact that no one is taking the other side; supporting military personnel is, properly, less controversial.

What's odd is how athletes are described as heroic when they take a stand on something. "They make a lot of money, they can't afford to piss anyone off." This is backward. These guys make so much money, no one in is better positioned to withstand some blowback. Guy making ten million a year should have several million in the bank; he'll muddle through. Also, the salary money is secure; so long as he can play, he'll get paid. Only endorsements will be placed in jeopardy. It's human nature to maximize earning potential for as long as possible, but taking a stand that might cost a few endorsements is hardly comparable to storming Omaha Beach.

Sports in America—especially professional sports—is inextricably entwined with politics. If you doubt this, look around at the next game you see. With very few exceptions—Fenway Park, Wrigley Field—the buildings in which the games are played were built because politicians sacked the taxpayers for anywhere from a couple of hundred million to a billion dollars, often while under threats from the owners to move the team.

It's never wrong to do the right thing; the key is in how it's done. The Suns expressed support for their Hispanic fans with the "Los Suns" shirts; it's not like they wore something that said the Arizona legislature are racist despots. (I'm not saying that, either, though I strongly disagree with the new law.) Showing support for one side in a dispute is not the same as disrespecting the other, though it may be interpreted that way. If someone were to receive an invitation to the White House from a president with whom one vehemently disagreed, declining the invitation is not inappropriate; making a public statement to the effect that the invitation was declined because the recipient thinks the current executive is a communist/idiot/fascist/child molester is because it disrespects the office, and, by association, the nation.

What shouldn't be forgotten is that the Suns found a way to show support for one side in a dispute without openly questioning the motives/patriotism/intelligence of the other side. It would be nice to hope this could start a trend, but that's asking a lot in the current climate.

No comments: