The NBA’s Phoenix Suns will wear “Los Suns” on their jerseys in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals tonight to honor the Latino community and Arizona’s diversity. There are at least a couple of things I love about the decision of the Phoenix Suns to use the Cinco de Mayo holiday to show solidarity with our Latino brothers and sisters. First, it is always refreshing to see athletes who realize that their powerful platforms can be used for more than just making money and showing their physical prowess like prized race horses. You see, there was a time when it was ok for athletes to be intelligent, active and empowered voices in their communities.
The modern-day rendition of the dumbed-down, “I don’t be doing nothing but taking it to the hole” athlete is a product of corporate America’s effort to keep athletes making money without making waves. Many of the athletes are not well-educated during college, creating the damaging stereotype of the man with a pocket full of money in a quest for a brash and meaningless existence.
The Phoenix Suns protest also reminds our country of the dual reality it faces on the topic of “illegal” immigration. The truth is that we welcome the presence of our friends from south of the border. They make contributions to every aspect of American life and culture, and help to maintain and preserve the strength of our great nation. While those who fear change want to racially profile the Latino community into extinction, the simple fact is that you can’t stop the inevitable. Rather than fighting those who wish to become Americans, it might make better sense to embrace them. Standing up against the new Arizona law is quite clearly the right thing to do.
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What must also be noted is that all of the energy that the Suns are willing to put behind this protest for the Latino community has never been shown for the African-American community. For some reason, the black men wearing athletic uniforms have almost no willingness to speak out in the name of their fellow African-Americans wearing prison uniforms. The United States incarcerates 5.8 times more black men than South Africa did during the height of the terribly racist apartheid regime.
Black men endure unemployment rates of 19.1 percent and as high as 50 percent in many urban areas. Black men and boys are dying at alarming rates in the streets of Chicago and no one is doing a damn thing about it. But with smiles on their faces, many athletes can simply dribble their way past the devastation in their own communities, only stopping to cash another paycheck. Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and other outstanding athletes of the past would never have been able to do that, which is why they are considered among the greatest athletes whoever lived.
The Suns’ protest will probably give other athletic teams the courage to follow suit. What’s best is that by doing what is right, the teams can also do what is profitable. The Latino community is an important part of the fan base of the Phoenix Suns and other sports teams in the state of Arizona, so it might behoove them to support this community in it’s time of need. What’s even more telling is that while it might be beneficial for the Suns to fight against racism in the state of Arizona, the government itself will find its newfound racism to be incredibly costly. Arizona, as a percentage of state revenues, has the highest budget deficit in the nation, so resulting economic boycotts and the political backlash will be devastating. They simply cannot afford to be bigoted anymore.
Athletes should keep standing up, and government officials may want to stand down. When we all commit to doing what is right, the world becomes a better place in the process. The Phoenix Suns organization has suddenly become a model for the rest of the athletic universe.