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Originally published May 6, 2010 at 4:19 PM | Page modified May 6, 2010 at 11:46 PM

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Steve Kelley

Sports should make statement against Arizona's immigration law

Phoenix wore its Los Suns uniforms in a recent NBA playoff game to protest a law recently signed by the Arizona governor. Other teams and leagues should follow the Suns' example.

Seattle Times staff columnist

The night turned into a party for Los Suns.

Their Wednesday night win over San Antonio gave them a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series and the home crowd — white, black and brown — cheered them as if they all were one, big orange-colored family.

It was a night of multiracial, multicultural fun, the way sports is intended to be. But it was also an important night of protest.

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver decided the team should break out the "Los Suns" uniforms to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, but also to protest a law recently signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.

The law makes it a crime to be without immigration documentation and gives police officers the right to ask for proof of legal residency if they believe a person is in the country illegally.

Sarver, the Suns' managing general partner, has called the law flawed and mean-spirited and has worried about the law's economic impact on Arizona.

He asked the Suns to wear those uniforms in Game 2, and the players unanimously agreed.

The act of wearing those uniforms by Los Suns was another indication that the political fight over the sensibility of such a polarizing law is going to be fought on the basketball courts and the football fields and, especially, the baseball fields.

Wearing those uniforms was a dramatic political statement by a professional sports team that felt compelled to speak out.

On ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" this week, Phoenix's All-Star point guard Steve Nash, a Canadian, said the law "really damages our civil liberties and I think it opens up the potential for racial profiling and racism. I think that a bad precedent is set for our young people."

Suns general manager Steve Kerr said that asking people for their documents "rings up images of Nazi Germany."

This is a rare case where sports can put pressure on politicians to do the right thing and correct this mistake. The law doesn't go into effect until the end of summer.

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Baseball's 2011 All-Star Game will be played in Phoenix. Glendale, home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, is one of the sites bidding for either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

Also, Glendale always is in the mix for Final Fours and Super Bowls. This law puts Arizona in jeopardy of losing events such as these.

On opening day, approximately 30 percent of the players on major-league rosters were born outside the United States. Most of them were Hispanic. Their voices deserve to be heard.

San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez already has said he will boycott the 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix if he is chosen. Surely other players will follow his lead.

Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and New York Mets catcher Rod Barajas have voiced their protests. Baseball's player's union has expressed its unhappiness with the law.

Sports teams, leagues and governing bodies have to take strong stances on this ill-conceived bill.

I've been to Kosovo, Kabul, San Salvador — jittery places where law-enforcement officials made me feel that if I didn't pull out my passport fast enough, or left it in a hotel or at a home, I could be pulled out of my van and taken who-knows-where.

I know how frightening it can be for a visiting foreigner who looks different from the majority of the population. I've been nervous driving past a stern-faced cop in Pristina and Mazar-i-Sharif.

Half of the major-league teams, including Los Marineros, train in Arizona. I can only imagine how a brown-skinned Hispanic player would feel driving on the Arizona highways if this law goes into effect.

Nobody is disputing the fact that this country needs immigration reform. But this law isn't the answer.

Now it is up to Major League Baseball, the league of Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, to take action. Commissioner Bud Selig has to step up.

He should begin discussions to move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Phoenix if the law goes into effect. Remember, the NFL pulled a Super Bowl from Phoenix because Arizona didn't honor Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday.

Los Suns won a playoff basketball game and made a statement this week. They took the first bold step. The rest of sports should follow their lead.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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