Martin Luther King, Jr., in his most celebrated speech, said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Had he known of the Phoenix Suns’ decision to protest the new Arizona immigration law in unique fashion, he might have added: “And by their ability to jay, one, bank in, and, without regard to race, religion, economic status or ethnicity, be acknowledged as totally dunkadelic.”
Certainly there are those who think professional sports are a frivolous, mindless, outrageously money-laden diversion from the real and pressing problems of society. However, perhaps more than any other single enterprise, professional sports have leveled the playing field in terms of providing access based entirely on ability. A pretty face, a social pedigree, an alabaster hue don’t mean nuthin’ if you can’t handle the ball.
At the bottom of its lightless heart, racism is a failure to connect, to see one’s values, fears, dreams, and hopes reflected in another, to fully feel that we are all human beings, more similar than different, and that differences are not to be feared but to be understood, sometimes compassionately challenged but always learned from and celebrated. Racists, in their blanket condemnation and dehumanization of groups of people based on superficial and involuntary characteristics, are, above all, profoundly ignorant, and ignorance is most effectively countered through education. And what is education but a process of enlightenment through knowledge and identification?
In 1936, Jesse Owens won four gold medals in “Hitler’s Olympics,” thus refuting the Führer’s claim of Aryan superiority and spoiling his intended display of “Master Race” dominance. On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson stepped out upon the field as a Brooklyn Dodger and the first African American to play in the majors, and I like to think that, despite the taunts and threats he received, his spectacular performance and personal grace caused a million cracks to appear in a million stony racist hearts, proving once and for all that racism has no chance against team spirit. Professional sports is full of such stories and many professional athletes, by first breaking the race/color barrier, have been seminal in transforming racist attitudes and judgments.
The Suns’ decision – based on a unanimous vote and full support of management – to wear their “Los Suns” uniforms as a Cinco de Mayo tribute “to honor [the] Latino community and the diversity of our league, the state of Arizona, and our nation” is, as Yahoo!Sports-writer Trey Kirby says, “awesome.” He notes that while sports franchises frequently consider making political statements to be bad business – “as Michael Jordan put it, ‘Republicans buy shoes too’” – sometimes they have the cojones to take a stand. Owner Robert Sarver said when he suggested that the team wear their Noche Latina jerseys, “However intended, the result of passing the 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.”
The Suns’ rivals in Wednesday night’s game 2, the San Antonio Spurs, attempted to demonstrate their solidarity by wearing their own “Los Spurs” jerseys but simply didn’t have the time to make that happen. But, hey, the thought counts and it’s clear that the NBA, as an organization, is fully supportive of these acts of protest. In a press release issued by NBA Players Association, Executive Director Billy Hunter declared:
“The recent passage of the new immigration law in Arizona is disappointing and disturbing. The National Basketball Players Association strongly supports the repeal or immediate modification of this legislation. Any attempt to encourage, tolerate or legalize racial profiling is offensive and incompatible with basic notions of fairness and equal protection. A law that unfairly targets one group is ultimately a threat to all.
“We applaud the actions of Phoenix Suns players and management and join them in taking a stand against the misguided efforts of Arizona lawmakers. We are consulting with our members and our player leadership to determine the most effective way for our union to continue to voice our opposition to this legislation.”
I don’t believe that anyone would disagree that US immigration policy needs an overhaul. Nations have the right and the obligation to determine and control immigration. I’m going to be traveling in Greece this summer and I certainly don’t expect to be able to plop my behind on the beach and announce, Sweet! I think I’ll live here now. Since United States is known as a country of immigrants and advertises itself as the ‘land of opportunity,’ is it any wonder that many people, whose home countries are rife with poverty and war, might be lured by the promise of life here? However, any new law needs to be grounded in principles of compassion and practicality, as well address concerns about safety and abuse. The Arizona law, in my opinion, does neither.
So, ¡viva Los Suns! I do, however, admit to one caveat: should they eventually face my home team for the NBA title, I will have to say: ¡Gracias, Los Suns, por su acción honorable y valiente, pero vaya Los Celtics!