'Los Suns' Go After Arizona's Immigration Law

It's Cinco de Mayo, the Fifth of May, the anniversary of the Mexican militia's victory over Napoleon's troops in 1862; cause for celebration in Mexico, a holiday.

It's reason for the Phoenix Suns, whose home is a state at war with itself over immigration, mainly about undocumented Mexicans, to make a statement as clear as the words on the front of their jerseys.

"Los Suns,'' it will say, an amalgam of Spanish and English, Spanglish if you will, not perfect linguistically but appropriate on this day and in Arizona, where there are large numbers of Latinos.

As is apparent from that questionable and divisive law enacted last week.

SB1070, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer makes it a crime for a person to not have immigration documents, and empowers law enforcement agencies to question the status of anyone based on "reasonable suspicion.''

The law harkens back to Germany of the 1930s, the Soviet Union of the 1950s, very un-American, very frightening.

Brewer, the governor, blamed the lack of nationwide immigration policy for her support and endorsement of the bill, a rather lame excuse, since other border states, California, Texas, New Mexico, didn't feel compelled to follow that path.

The Suns' managing partner, Robert Sarver, receiving unanimous support from his athletes, released a statement declaring that the "passing of this law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question.''

He said Arizona 's economy will "suffer further setbacks when the state can ill-afford them.''

The man and the team are gamers, the kind of individuals you want in the closing minutes, courageous, tough-minded. People in sport are not always that way. Often they're the opposite, explaining they're too busy attempting to get baskets or touchdowns to get involved.

They're not looking for trouble, just success. Besides, they didn't create the mess.

Twenty years ago, 1990, the PGA Championship was held at then segregated Shoal Creek Golf Club, in Birmingham, Ala., whose president, Hall Thompson, said "would not be pressured into accepting'' African-American members.

Civil rights groups protested, and several corporate sponsors withdrew. Yet, when the entrants, the pros, were asked their feelings, the basic response was, "I'm a golfer, not a politician.''

It's changed. We have golfers from Australia, baseball players from the Dominican Republic, basketball players from Serbia and Croatia. We - they - have a sense of fairness and equality.

Isn't America all about giving someone a chance? Wasn't the country built on immigration?

More than 25 percent of players on Major League rosters on opening day were foreign born. NBA lineups are peopled with Spaniards, Argentines, Haitians and in the case of the Suns' creative point guard Steve Nash, Canadians.

"It's a clear-cut issue for me,'' said Nash. His teammates include Leandro Barbosa of Brazil and Goran Dragic of Slovenia. "I don't agree with this bill. I don't agree with the spirit of the bill or the message it sends, not only to people in our community but how it represents our community across the country and across the world.

"I think the bill opens up the opportunity for racial profiling. ... It's an infringement on our civil liberties to allow the possibility for inequality to arise in the community.''

Half the teams in Major League Baseball hold spring training in Arizona. The 2011 All-Star Game is scheduled in Arizona. The Suns and football Cardinals and hockey Coyotes are based in Arizona. The state is in a tenuous position, of its own causing.

"It's hard to imagine in this country we have to produce papers,'' Suns general manager Steve Kerr told the Arizona Republic. "It rings up images of Nazi Germany. ... We feel (the law) was well-intended but not well-executed.''

"Los Suns'' have been executing very well, off court as well as on. They take chances, roll up the points. If they don't play defense, neither are they defensive in their philosophy. The law is wrong, so don't be afraid to say so.

"There are times when you need to stand up and he heard,'' said Sarver, the managing partner.

The Major League Baseball Players Association is no less adamant. The organization wants commissioner Bud Selig to pull the All-Star Game from Phoenix. Others have expressed the same desire. Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres slugger, a Mexican-American, insisted he wouldn't compete in the game if it stays in Arizona and the law as currently written stays on the books.

"This is discrimination,'' said Gonzalez.

That's exactly what it is. On Cinco de Mayo, Los Suns, hardly alone, are willing to make that point as they try to make a great many points.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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