'Los Suns' statement comes in a perfectly fine arena for politics

The Phoenix Suns are against the new immigration law in Arizona and they're going to show their dislike of it in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals Wednesday night.
By Mike Wise
Thursday, May 6, 2010

On the edict of their owner, the Phoenix Suns wore "Los Suns" jerseys in Game 2 of their playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. Because this gesture is less about honoring Cinco de Mayo than standing in solidarity with Latinos and other people upset with Arizona's new immigration law, the predictable lament has already begun:

Why is a sports owner getting involved in politics? Can't an NBA arena, where the political left, right and center commingle in support of the same institution, stay out of this scrum?

The answer, quite clearly, is no. Sports franchises have never been separate from the communities in which they reside, and they have become even more entwined over the years as they have skyrocketed in value, becoming some of the most lucrative properties in their geographic areas.

As an owner of one of Arizona's four major pro sports franchises, Suns owner Robert Sarver in effect was making a choice no matter what action he took. Doing nothing would have been silent acquiescence.

Sarver is both an Arizona citizen and a businessman. He knows the ugly tenor growing around the country over the law, which is the closest thing to legalized racial profiling since having to show proof of emancipation. He also knows he has an arena to fill. His stance risks offending a good portion of his season-ticket base, but a national boycott including hotels and conventions could financially decimate the state.

For better or worse, the games and the times they are played in are now inextricable.

You can't get these stories off the sports page, just as you can't get Tim Tebow's religion, Curt Schilling's political leanings or a woman alleging that Ben Roethlisberger is a sexual predator off the sports page.

One of the reasons we want sports to be a separate arena is because we like the safe feeling that the winner's circle is colorless, genderless, accepting of any ethnicity or socioeconomic group. It's a relief from real-world complexity. Everything from the score to the time has finality to it, genuine resolution. It's not intractable; it's resolvable.

But when political issues so pervade a community, a sports franchise -- from the owner to the players -- can't pretend they are somehow above or below the fray.

Sarver and the NBA are not alone on this issue.

Peter Gammons, the longtime baseball writer and television analyst now with MLB Network, called Arizona's new law "a terrible problem for Bud Selig" on Wednesday. Gammons surmised the commissioner and baseball will "eventually pull the [2011] All-Star Game out" of Phoenix.

"It's not going to work with [Arizona Senator] John McCain having a commercial about illegal aliens intentionally causing automobile accidents to collect money from the government," Gammons said. "I don't think there's any reason left in Arizona. Right now some people used to have principle; now it's all about poll results."

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