Thursday, May 6, 2010

New jerseys in Phoenix

The Phoenix Suns will play the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals in the NBA playoffs. Phoenix leads the best-of-seven series 2-0 right now, but for many people, basketball fans and otherwise, the Suns are winners in ways that have nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with knowing the community they live in.

The Suns, of course, represent the once and future state of Arizona (currently reclaiming its status as the Arizona Territory), whose governor, Jan Brewer, signed into law an anti-illegal immigration bill that has the potential to presumptively criminalize, more or less on sight, any number of Arizona's Latino residents.

Since April 23, the day it was signed, the territory has been the object of scorn, ridicule and a variety of protests. One happened yesterday, Cinco de Mayo, when Rev. Al Sharpton wore a basketball jersey emblazoned with “Los Suns” at a protest rally through the streets of Phoenix.

Another protest happened last night at the US Airways Arena, when the Suns team, to a man, wore the same style of jersey in Game 2 against the Spurs. It was the Suns statement of solidarity with Arizona’s Latinos amid the current immigration debate crisis, and — if you can forgive the mangling of Spanish (a more precise translation of “the Suns” would be “Los Sols) — an emotionally effective one.

Suns owner Robert Sarver made it plain in a statement: It was done “to honor our Latino community and the diversity of our league, the state of Arizona and our nation.”

The outcome of the game (which los Sols won) almost didn’t matter. The jerseys sent a message that rattled from the arena all the way to the office of the territorial governor.

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Speaking of rattled, it’s safe to say that Brewer is just that, more than a little worried at the real prospect of Arizona losing prestige and millions of dollars of revenue, including the money to be expected when — or if — Arizona loses its lock on the 2011 major-league All-Star Game, in the face of a called-for boycott as a result of the misguided legislation that’s now the law of the territory.

That possibility got the territorial governor all sportsicious yesterday, when she wrote an op-ed piece published on ESPN’s Web site. In a piece with sports phrases and metaphors wielded occasionally but inartfully, Brewer defended the law.

“Urging Major League Baseball to take away next year's All-Star Game from Phoenix is the wrong play. In Arizona, both proponents and opponents of Senate Bill 1070 have stated that economic boycotts are an inappropriate and misguided response to an issue that is clearly worthy of proper public debate and discourse. Put simply, history shows that boycotts backfire and harm innocent people. Boycotts are just more politics and manipulation by out-of-state interests. ...”

“In December 2008, the U.S. Justice Department said that Mexican gangs are the ‘biggest organized crime threat to the United States.’ ... Essentially, our border leaks like a team with a last-place defense.”

“It is time for our country to act to resolve our border security problem; an economic boycott in Arizona would only exacerbate it -- and hurt innocent families and businesses merely seeking to survive during these difficult economic times.”

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Despite Brewer’s stand, however, a groundswell of grassroots opposition has been building by way of several civil rights organizations and social thought leaders.

As reported in the excellent Indian Country Today, Native Americans have come down hard against the Arizona law. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona opposes it. “We have a range of concerns, including tribal sovereign nations not being recognized as able to define and protect their own borders as they see fit, and the possibility that tribal citizens will be profiled by police,” John Lewis, council director, told ICT. “This impacts all indigenous people, and the lawmakers need to know it,” Lewis said. “America’s boundaries are not tribal boundaries.”

Robert Warrior, president of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, was just as blunt in an April 24 letter to Brewer. “Your action as chief executive of the state of Arizona will, when the law takes effect, give license to abuse by police and citizens, making ever more murky the possibility of working towards a just future for all people in the Americas,” Warrior wrote.

The constitutional challenges facing this law are likely to be formidable; several scholars have already said flat out it won’t survive a challenge in court. The opposition to the law has already jumped a shark of perception; the mayor of Phoenix made one heartfelt but maybe ill-advised reference to the law and its possible abuse — in a rhetorical linkage with the stars of David that European Jews were forced to wear during the ascendancy of the Nazis.

But all that somehow pales in comparison with the new jerseys, a simple statement of support made by one professional basketball team — a sí se puede statement of solidarity with Latinos and the right thing, available in small, medium and (like the hearts of the players who wore them) extra large.

Image credits: Phoenix Suns alternate "rising phoenix" logo: Suns/NBA. Al Sharpton: Getty Images.

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