The Phoenix Suns, stepping out as a team against Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070, is entirely without precedent in the history of sports, not to mention politics. It would be like if the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers had come out as one in support of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. The reason why team owner Robert Sarver and players like Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire took this unique step, amidst all the protest and controversy, is their belief that the bill itself is fundamentally unjust. As Stoudamire said, "It's going to be great to wear Los Suns to let the Latin community know we're behind them 100%.” One of the great things about social movements when they start to hum is that they compel others to act. I spoke with Oklahoma City Thunder basketball player Etan Thomas and 1968 Olympian John Carlos, two people never shy in the face of political controversy, to hear their thoughts.
“I think what the Phoenix Suns are doing is great,” Etan said. “Misguided is a polite way to describe this new law signed by Gov Jan Brewer. Not only is it a grant to racially profile but it is a violation of basic equal rights. What reason would the police have to suspect someone of being illegal if they simply see them driving down the street?”
Etan’s experience over the years playing in Phoenix has taught him a basic truth that we all would do well to remember. There are millions of people throughout the state who oppose this bill and the first responsibility is stand with them and make sure that immigrants in-state, documented or not, aren’t victimized.
“Phoenix is a really diverse city with a strong Latino community and for the Phoenix Suns to join them and show support for them is something special. I definitely feel it was the right move I'm sure a large portion of their fans are Latino and they will appreciate this organization showing any type of support for them.”
Dr. John Carlos, who was one half of the famed black fisted salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, did not mince words. He was disgusted by the bill but inspired by the actions of the Suns. “Any person who has ever been involved in prejudicial situation, where they were judged first and foremost by the color of their skin or their ethnicity should stand against it. I remember when Arizona didn’t want to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. I don’t know why as a state they want to be known as the epitome of prejudice, racism, and profiling. It’s a shame because not all the people in Arizona feel this way. That’s why it’s so important the Suns are doing what they are doing.”
Carlos also spoke out strongly against the idea that athletes have no place speaking out on the issue. “Yes, they said the same thing in my day. I’ll say now what I said then: anyone who says that these athletes should just mind their own business are assuming that we are just robots. That’s nonsense. This is the athlete’s business because it is society’s business, and we are a part of society. Our families have to travel to Arizona. Our state might be next with a bill like this. We have to speak out. And why not? These athletes today will get more publicity than any politician and they have more of a following and more approval than any other politician. They have this soapbox. Why not use it for good?” It's a soapbox we can expect more athletes, and perhaps even more teams, to climb upon if SB 1070 remains on the books.