Republicans Buy Sneakers, Too


popular sentiment shared among members of the sports community is that politics

and sports should not mix. After

all, with the vast investment of Corporate America, astronomical ticket pricing

and multi-billion dollar television contracts, it is simply safer and

financially more lucrative to accept the status quo than to challenge it.


Phoenix Suns recently rejected this logic during their 2nd round

playoff series versus the San Antonio Spurs. Before Game 2 of the Western

Conference Semi-Finals versus their post-season nemesis, the Suns took

advantage of their media spotlight to show support for the Latino

community. Owner Robert Sarver approached his players about wearing their

“Los Suns” jerseys for two reasons: 1) in honor of Cinco de Mayo and 2) as a

sign of disapproval for the newly passed Immigration Law. In a show of

solidarity, Sarver received the overwhelming support of his players and

coaches, as well as by the Spurs (who wanted to wear “Los Spurs” jerseys, but

could not get them ready in time for the game).


as Senate Bill 1070, this law is “intended” to target illegal immigrants by

giving the police the authority to question and arrest any individual they

suspect to be in the country illegally. In reality however, critics argue

that this bill is unconstitutional, as it simply allows and encourages racial

profiling by targeting the state’s large Hispanic community.


speaking, this is not the first time that the Arizona Legislature has

demonstrated racial narrow-mindedness. In

1987, then Arizona Governor Evan Mecham rescinded a bill to recognize Martin

Luther King Jr. Day. The bill was once again snubbed

when voters revisited the matter in 1990. Met with intense scrutiny across the nation, the NFL

and its Players Association decided to move the venue of Super Bowl XXVII from

Tempe, Arizona to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.


opposition has been pouring out with the enactment of SB 1070. President Obama has been quite

critical of the bill, while Hispanic members of Congress and neighbouring

states Texas, New Mexico and California -- all with large Latino populations --

have questioned its legitimacy. The Los Angeles City Council has even gone as

far as to vote a boycott of doing business with the state of Arizona (Editor’s

note: where does this leave the Los Angeles Lakers who play the Suns in the

Western Conference Finals?)


NBA has indeed become more diverse over the past two decades and by endorsing

the Suns' “Los Suns” jerseys, the NBA and their Player’s Association took

a significant and much needed social stance. In a recent interview on ESPN, the

captain and star of the team, Steve Nash, spoke out against the bill: “I'm against it. I think that this is a bill that really

damages our civil liberties. I

think that it opens up the potential for racial profiling, (and) racism. I think that it's a bad precedence to

set for our young people. It

represents our state poorly in the eyes of the rest of our nation and the

world. I think that we have a lot

of great attributes here and I think that it's something that we can do

without; and hopefully we can change a lot in the coming weeks”.


is easy to see where Nash differs from many of his peers in the spotlight.

Rather than side stepping the issue, Nash took advantage of his elevated status

to address the issue; with a bit more diplomacy than Kanye declaring after Hurricane Katrina that

“George Bush doesn’t care about black people” but with just as much of the

social weight. Not to over-hype

the importance of the NBA's influence over America's youth, but just think back

on what hip-hop did for Obama's 2008 Presidential Campaign -- it sparked

unprecedented interest and voter turnout amongst the youth of America. 

Similarly, the NBA could very well end up being responsible for a

socially-charged youth response by taking a public stance on SB 1070.


the same time, let us not forget that during periods of extreme unrest and

conflict in the civil arena, sports was used as a great means to spark

conversation and social change. In the past three decades, athletes have

bartered social responsibility for corporate functionality. Rightly or wrongly, the game’s top

performers have agreed to take the highroad as it pertains to social and

political ills, in exchange for corporate immunity. We need not look further than to the greatest

basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan. The

way in which Jordan transcended the game of basketball was evident both on and

off the court. Growing up, pretty much every kid

who stepped onto the court wanted to "Be Like Mike". While Jordan's heart and

determination on the court was never questioned, his silence off it has been. His allegiance to Corporate America

(i.e. Nike, Gatorade, McDonald’s, etc) has continually outweighed just about

everything else, as evidenced during the 1990 Senate race in his home state of

North Carolina, where Jordan refused to endorse Democratic nominee Harvey Gantt

over the ultra-conservative racial bigot Jesse Helms, famously stating that

"Republicans buy sneakers, too."


better or for worse, we have come a long way since the days of Jackie Robinson,

Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and other social activists, all in the name of fame and



it is unfair to expect our athletes to be publicly invested in the social and political wrongs of our

culture. Some would argue that it

does not matter what stance Michael Jordan takes on the War in Iraq or the

Health Care Debate. After all as a

performer, he was paid to do two things: win and entertain –- both of which he

did better than anyone else.


it is irresponsible and naive to

suggest that politics and sports (or entertainment for that matter) do not

mix. Senate Bill 1070 is an example of that. This is not a

Democrat versus Republican issue; it is a right versus wrong issue. And

in any arena, civil or sport, racial profiling and discrimination must be addressed.