Latino Athletes Turning Sporting Arenas into Political Arenas

Viva Los Suns

On Cinco de Mayo, the Phoenix Suns reached out to their Latino fans, and, for a day, become "Los Suns."

Arizona is feeling the heat. After their recent hard line policy shift on immigration, the Grand Canyon State is now facing a number of hardships—and, interestingly enough, some of the biggest political clout is coming from Latino athletes.

With the looming fear of racial profiling on the horizon, the Latino culture has been unifying and pressuring the Arizona government to repeal, amend, or suspend the current “anti-immigration” legislation. But the athletes—and just as importantly, their fans—have begun to attack a very vulnerable weak spot in today’s recession-driven landscape . . . the economy.

Phoenix’s Chase Stadium is the site of the 2011 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game, and a large contingent has been hammering at MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to move the event to another state. Fenton, a consulting firm leading the charge, has been privy to landmark rights cases before, having challenged apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. Fenton launched a website called movethegame.org, offering a petition for users to sign.

Major League Baseball, which boasts a membership of at least 30% Latinos, is finding itself in a precarious position, reaching a wide swath of audiences. The Associated Press reported that Selig has elected to keep the All-Star Game in Arizona, stating, “I told the club today: ‘Be proud of what we’ve done.’ They are. We should. And that’s our answer. We control our own fate, and we’ve done very well.”

In the AP story, Selig cited sports sociologist, author, and activist Richard Lapchick’s report from the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport last month that gave baseball an “A” for race, and a “B” for gender hiring.

The MLB Player’s Association did take a more pronounced position after deliberating at length, and issued a statement, given by Executive Director Michael Weiner:

My statement reflects the institutional position of the Union. It was arrived at after consultation with our members and after consideration of their various views on this controversial subject.
The recent passage by Arizona of a new immigration law could have a negative impact on hundreds of Major League players who are citizens of countries other than the United States. These international players are very much a part of our national pastime and are important members of our Association. Their contributions to our sport have been invaluable, and their exploits have been witnessed, enjoyed and applauded by millions of Americans . . . The Major League Baseball Players Association opposes this law as written. We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly.

Professional leagues and teams have been demonstrating their support for Latinos with recent crossover marketing. Later this baseball season, the ‘Cerveceros’ of Milwaukee will play the ‘Piratas’ of Pittsburgh.

In March, 10 NBA teams wore jerseys that targeted to their Latino fans. But more prescient was the decision of the Phoenix Suns to wear their “Los Suns” jerseys during a playoff game against the Spurs on Cinco de Mayo—after the Arizona legislation passed. (To be fair, San Antonio would have worn their “Los Spurs” jerseys had they been available.)

“The Suns and managing partner Robert Sarver should be applauded for their move,” said Horacio Ruiz, a contributing writer to 100 Campeones: Latino Groundbreakers Who Paved the Way in Sport, which is a title being published this summer by Fitness Information Technology. “Surely they are conscious of the Latino fan base they have and also the role that sports has in society. Anyone that argues that sports should be left alone and outside the influence of politics and social movements just doesn’t understand the history of sports and its foundations.”

Jim Litke wrote in an article that the upcoming census is likely to reveal that Latinos will constitute close to 15% of the population of the United States, with a purchasing power of one trillion dollars.

Arizona has seen this sort of pressure before, however, when the majority of state citizens voted to not officially observe the Martin Luther King, Jr., national holiday in 1990. The NFL Players’ Association helped to lead a boycott against the state, and Super Bowl XXVII, slated to be held in Arizona in 1993, was moved to Pasadena, California. Arizona soon voted again to adopt the official observation, and was awarded Super Bowl XXX in 1996.

“The immigration issue presents itself as a political and sociological issue as large as those that have come before it,” said Ruiz. “Why can’t sports now be a theater of protest and demonstration like it has in the past?”

Regardless of how one observes the current situation in Arizona, it is difficult to deny the amalgamating power of the sporting arena—one of the few places where the public at large can unify against a common enemy . . . the opposing team.


Horacio Ruiz is a contributing writer to Richard Lapchick‘s upcoming book, 100 Campeones: Latino Groundbreakers Who Paved the Way in Sport. He has also contributed to Lapchick’s previous titles, 100 Pioneers: African-Americans Who Broke Color Barriers in Sport, and 100 Trailblazers: Great Women Who Opened Doors for Future Generations.

You can also read more about how sports have transcended the color barrier in the recently published Long Run to Freedom, by John Nauright, and the upcoming Sports, Race, and Ethnicity, a collection edited by Daryl Adair.

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