Pro-Sports Joins Protest Over Arizona’s New Immigration Law

Many of America’s professional sports teams have a significant number of immigrant players. Almost a third of the players in Major League Baseball are Hispanic.

Now, players, and in some cases team owners, are speaking out against Arizona’s new law that will criminalize undocumented immigrants.

“We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly,” Michael Weiner, head of the MLB players’ union, said in a statement. “If the current law goes into effect, the M.L.B.P.A. will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members.”

On Wednesday night, in Game 2 of the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns basketball team publicly celebrated Cinco de Mayo in solidarity with the Latino population of their state, by wearingLos Suns” jerseys. It was owner Robert Sarver’s idea to protest Arizona’s SB 1070.  “To honor our Latino community and the diversity of our league, the state of Arizona, and our nation,” he said. Sarver called Arizona’s new law “flawed” and “mean-spirited.”

“However intended, the result of passing the law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question and Arizona’s already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when the state can ill-afford them.”

The Suns players quickly agreed to wear the jerseys. Guard Steve Nash, who was born in South Africa and has Canadian citizenship, said he was against the law and believes it damages civil liberties.”I think it opens up the potential for racial profiling and racism. I think it’s a bad precedent to set for our young people, I think it represents our state poorly in the eyes of the nation and the world,” Nash said on ESPN.

“I think it’s very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. As a team and as an organization, we have a lot of love and support for all of our fans. The league is very multicultural. We have players from all over the world, and our Latino community here is very strong and important to us,” Nash said earlier this week.

The NBA Players Association praised the Suns for the gesture, and released a statement criticizing the law.

“We applaud the actions of Phoenix Suns players and management and join them in taking a stand against the misguided efforts of Arizona lawmakers. We are consulting with our members and our player leadership to determine the most effective way for our union to continue to voice our opposition to this legislation.”

Of course, not everyone is happy with Los Suns. Before Wednesday’s game, Suns coach Alvin Gentry received angry emails from Arizona citizens upset about the decision.  The Arizona Republic reported that one furious fan shredded her four lower-level tickets to Wednesday’s game because of it.

The politics of immigration have added a new twist to the rivalries on display at pro-sports events. Last week, the Arizona Diamondbacks were subject to angry political protesters at Wrigley Field in a game against the Chicago Cubs.

Pressure is mounting for Major League Baseball to relocate the 2011 All-Star Game, currently scheduled to be held in Phoenix. Some advocates are also pressing for teams to move their spring training facilities, half of which are in Arizona. The Reverend Jesse Jackson sent a letter Monday to baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, in which he wrote that Arizona’s law is morally reprehensible, and asked that Selig move the All-Star game unless the law is repealed.

As Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon writes, “Commissioner Bud Selig is going to have to take the temperature of the players and executives in his league and figure out who he’s going to offend, the state of Arizona if MLB moves the game, or his Hispanic players if MLB keeps the game here.”

AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.