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EDITORIAL: Amnesty for illegal Phoenix Suns fans

- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 6, 2010

Imagine thousands of people were sneaking into Phoenix Suns games without tickets. The management would quickly crack down on the "undocumented spectators." Security personnel would engage in "profiling" - singling out younger male fans wandering around without obvious seats. They would want to see some "papers" - ticket stubs. Those lacking documentation would be deported out of the arena, or, in some cases, arrested.

Suns owner Robert Sarver seems to think that the rules that apply to his for-profit local monopoly should not apply to the state of Arizona. After a unanimous team vote held at his house, Mr. Sarver ordered his players to wear "Los Suns" jerseys during last night's Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals. The move is an explicit protest against the new immigration law, which Mr. Sarver says calls into question "our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law."

The mangled Spanish jerseys (a literal translation would be "Los Soles") were first produced four years ago as part of the NBA's annual "Noche Latina" marketing campaign. Saskia Sorrosa, NBA senior director of Hispanic marketing, explained that "Noche Latina is an opportunity for us to thank the Hispanic community for their support and showcase how their pride and passion impact our teams and players." The campaign attempts to tread the fine line between marketing and pandering to a demographic that makes up an estimated 15 percent of the NBA fan base.

Suns General Manager Steve Kerr said the point of the jerseys was not to make "a huge political statement" but to "celebrate the diversity that exists here in Arizona." Yet diversity is not at issue, criminality is. Arizona's immigration law is not, as its frenzied detractors seem to think, a legal form of ethnic cleansing. It simply seeks to put into effect the existing federal laws that the Obama administration is either unwilling or incapable of enforcing.

With 70 percent of Arizonans backing the tough immigration stance, the Suns risk alienating a significant number of fans. ESPN asked whether it was appropriate for the Suns to "take a stand against the Arizona immigration law" in an online poll yesterday. Fifty-seven percent in Arizona answered no, slightly higher than the 55 percent negative response nationally.

It's never a good idea to mix sports and politics. A sports team should be a focus of unity in a community, not a source of division. Sporting events should be a refuge from politics, a safe haven from the growing partisan divide. Teams should not be used as sounding boards for the personal political views of the team owner or players. Sports franchises are granted monopoly privileges in their communities and in return assume special responsibilities. One of them should be to stick to the sports arena and stay out of the political arena.

So while millionaire athletes become walking billboards for a political cause, the state of Arizona might want to review the terms of its relationship with the Suns. If Mr. Sarver wants to use his team to push a political agenda, perhaps citizens can push back. Imagine Phoenix residents channeling the spirits of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. by turning up en masse to Suns games, sneaking in without tickets, demanding special services like free food and access to box seats, overtaxing arena security and ruining the game for the people with tickets. They can call it a celebration of diversity.