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The Oscar Pistorius-Ray Rice Moment September 12, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, South Africa, Sports, Women.
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BY , 12 September 2014, The New Yorker

From the moment that the Oscar Pistorius case began unfolding, with the news, the morning after Valentine’s Day last year, that he had shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, there was the small redeeming hope that it could be a teachable moment. The entire world seemed intensely focused on the story. In part, that was because of Pistorius’s celebrity and the physical challenges he overcame—he was born without fibulas, and his feet were amputated below the knee when he was an infant—and the images of Steenkamp, a smiling law-school graduate and model. He claimed that he had mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar, shooting her multiple times through a bathroom door. But, while one man was on trial for murdering his girlfriend, what many believed would be on trial was the horrific epidemic of domestic violence in South Africa and all over the world, including in this country. Even as Pistorius’s trial wound to a close—he was foundguilty of culpable homicide, a charge akin to manslaughter, though he was acquitted of murder—another story involving an athlete was unfolding in the United States: the release of a video showing Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, punching  his fiancée at the time, now his wife.

Of course, it’s a coincidence that these two cases are in the public eye at the same moment, thousands of miles apart. No, Ray Rice did not kill his fiancée; he knocked her out cold. But, in this country, as in South Africa, the abuse and, yes, the murder of women is beyond horrendous, and most cases go unpunished or, unless the accused is a big guy with big bucks and a big rep, unnoticed. (And many times even then.) Since the Rice revelations, more women in the U.S. have talked publicly about having been abused by their partner—the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft were the labels for many wrenching stories this week. Many had suffered in silence, not speaking about what was happening to them or pursuing justice in the courts. Often—and this is especially true in South Africa, where the justice system and government services to assist women are inadequate, at best—just going to the authorities doesn’t protect women.

In South Africa, according to the civil-society organization Sonke Gender Justice, three women are killed by an “intimate partner” (the term includes current and former relationships) every day. It happens with such frequency that it has a name:  “intimate-partner femicide.” There is also, in South Africa, the scourge of “corrective rape,” in which men believe that raping lesbians and gay men will “cure” them of their sexual orientation. (I wrote about this crisis for The New Yorker.) And yet there are few prosecutions.

In South Africa, many are so frustrated with the lack of justice, especially the rape victims—and, even more, gay rape victims—that they don’t even bother to report abuse.

But the domestic abuse and murder of women is not limited to a single place, whether South Africa or a hotel-casino in Atlantic City. The World Health Organization calls violence against women “a global health problem,” with its most recent statistics showing that thirty-five per cent of women worldwide have been victims of domestic violence, and thirty-eight per cent of murders of women were committed by an intimate partner. Sonke’s executive director, Dean Peacock, said, “Multiple surveys carried out in nearly all regions of the world have found that the strongest factors associated with men’s use of violence against women are social norms that support men’s collective dominance over women.” Peacock added, “Children’s exposure to violence in the home, alcohol abuse, and easy access to guns all contribute to the unsafe environment women and children find themselves in.”

Those social norms take many forms. Recently, the jihadist onslaught in various parts of the world, which aims to put women back in positions of servitude, has played its part, including in the now almost forgotten abduction of more than two hundred schoolgirls in northern Nigeria. Most are still missing.

One question will be whether the mixed official response in the Pistorius and Rice cases advances any meaningful steps being taken to deal effectively with domestic violence and the murder of women. For many, the Pistorius verdict was a disappointment; though he has still been convicted of a serious crime, with the possibility of up to fifteen years in prison, he escaped the most serious consequences. (“This verdict is not justice for Reeva,” her mother, June Steenkamp,said on Friday.) Before the video came out, Rice had only been suspended for two games, even though it was known that he had knocked his fiancée unconscious; he has now been cut from the team and suspended indefinitely. Just how teachable is this Pistorius-Rice moment, at home and globally? There is hope in there, in the sharing of stories and difficult conversations. There is also a long way to go.

  • WATCH: The Powerful Anti-‘Redskins’ Ad the NFL Refuses to Air June 11, 2014

    Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Racism, Sports.
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    Roger’s note: Watch the video, it is lovely and uplifting.

     

    Photo Credit: via youtube/changethemascot.org

    During this weekend’s highly anticipated NBA final, an ad that the NFL does not want to air will hit the airwaves. It is a powerful and moving plea to change the offensive Washington Redskins name and mascot produced by a group called the National Congress of American Indians.

    The ad runs through a list of words that Native Americans actually call themselves: proud, forgotten, Navajo, mother, survivor, Inuit, patriot, underserved . . . and many more.

    It’s quite a long and enlightening list, accompanied by beautiful photographs, and its intent is clear. Redskins is a derogatory term that has no place in our national dialogue, or as the name of a football team. Will the NFL listen?

    You can watch and listen:

    Griner takes aim at fighting bullying April 5, 2014

    Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Sports, Sports, Women.
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    Roger’s note: Confession: I love sports.  I am an unrepentant sports fan.   Blame the golden era of the Brooklyn Dodgers and my father who took me to witness history and Jackie Robinson at Ebbets Field in 1947.  Blame a Rose Bowl appearance in my freshman year at Berkeley (there has not been once since that day in January 1959).  I know this is not politically correct (note that I use the phrase as it was originally intended, to indicate a minor and relatively insignificant aberration of principle [an acknowledgement of human frailty], and not how the phase has been perverted by the radical right to denote someone who is zealous in the pursuit of the principles of social justice).  Every once in a while, rarely perhaps, a story comes out of the sports world that conflates the world of sport with socially positive principle.  Such is the case of Brittney Griner.  I also cannot help pointing out that Texas’s Baylor University, a self-proclaimed “Christian” school with overt and repressive anti-gay regulations for its students, was willing to “overlook” Griner’s lesbianism as long as she kept her mouth shut about it and continued to rake in big money for the school with her extraordinary basketball skills.

    As you will see from reading this article, she is now a wealthy professional basketball player in the WNBA and still feels compelled to share her painful history and re-live that pain so that LGBT youth of today may not have to experience the same degradations that she did.  I consider her a heroic figure, both on and off the court.

     

    By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com, April 4, 2014

     

    Brittney GrinerJennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsBrittney Griner’s app will provide resources to school officials looking for ways to aid bullying victims.

     

    It was hard watching Brittney Griner struggle to keep the smile on her face.

    With each breath, it seemed a tiny portion of the joy she came onstage with slowly dissipated, like smoke fleeing the wick of a candle that has recently been blown out. Barely five minutes into the first session of this year’s SXSW’s sports plenary and one of the most accomplished players in NCAA history is broken.

    When I asked her to begin the panel discussion by reading aloud a passage from her autobiography, “In My Skin: My Life on and off the Basketball Court,” I had assumed the 22-year-old was over it.

    The bullying from middle school.

    The teasing from high school.

    The ridicule and isolation that can sometime come when who and what society says you are supposed to be are not reflective of who and what you actually are.

    Because the Venn diagram our culture etches into the national narrative makes happiness a subset of wealth, from the outside looking in, and we naturally assume professional athletes have it all. Griner has a Nike deal and 77-foot banner of her likeness draped over a building in downtown Phoenix before she took a single WNBA dribble. And yet here we are, in a crowded banquet room of an Austin, Texas, hotel, and the only sounds that can be heard are the occasional creaks a chair makes when the occupant shifts his or her weight — and the gentle sobs of someone who is supposed to have it all.

     

    They say it’s important for kids to express themselves, but from the moment kids start to make choices — what clothes they want to wear, what toys they want to play with, what activities they want to pursue — society tries to define them and put them into neat little boxes. Girls are supposed to act this way, boys that way. And any kid who doesn’t fit into one of those boxes gets labeled as weird or strange or different.

    “I really don’t talk about the past that much because it just wasn’t good,” Griner told me later after she had read the above passage from her book at our panel. “Even when I was writing the book I was reliving that pain all over again.

    “There were times when I didn’t want to do the book anymore because of all of the pain. But I felt that if I did it, maybe I could help someone else who was in school right now and having a very hard time.”

     

     

     

    Brittney Griner, who scored 3,283 career points, dunked 18 times and set the NCAA record (man or woman) with 748 career blocks at Baylor, shares her coming-of-age story, revealing how she found the strength to overcome bullies and to embrace her authentic self.

     

    Griner: Book signing, interview

    • Brittney Griner will hold a book-signing session following an exclusive interview with espnW.com’s Kate Fagan, as part of the weekend’s festivities at NCAA Tourney Town. The event begins Sunday, April 6, at 3:30 p.m. local time at Music City Center in Nashville.

     

    In addition to the book, Griner is launching a smartphone app to help bullied teens and provide resources to school officials who are at a loss as to how to help them.

    “The one question I would ask my teachers is, ‘Why?'” Griner said, her voice starting to shake. “‘Why didn’t you do anything to try to stop what was happening to me? Why didn’t you do anything to help me or any of the other kids who were being bullied every day?’

    “But then I wonder if they even knew how to help. Or even if they understood how important it is that they do help. They might think it’s just kids being kids, but really — it’s more. They could save somebody’s life.”

    According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, with LGBT youth being four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. It’s a statistic that resonates more when familiar faces like Griner’s are attached to it. She spends time in the book discussing what she calls “the dark days” and the time in which she imagined what would happen “if I didn’t exist anymore.”

    Only the most callous of hearts could hear such a statement and not be touched. And usually those hearts have Twitter accounts.

    Despite rewriting the record books, the names directed at Griner, even still, are as demeaning as the ones that began circulating soon after the “High School Girl Dunks” video clip made her a YouTube curiosity while at Nimitz High School. The ridicule via social media remains as relentless as the insults schoolmates would direct her way in the halls of Teague Middle School. Griner said one of her tormentors walked right up to her in the hallway, rubbed on her chest and then yelled, “See, I told you she was a boy.”

    The teachers nearby did nothing.

    “I remember thinking once I got to college I would finally be free,” she said. “And then I get there and I had to stay hidden. My teammates didn’t have a problem with me being gay, but the school did. It was crazy.”

    Whenever an athlete — be it Griner, the NBA’s Jason Collins or NFL draft prospect Michael Sam — publicly talk about their sexual orientation, inevitably the question “Who cares?” can be heard. And in many ways it is a legitimate response. If someone wants to be judged by their on-the-field performance, then why willingly choose to draw attention to one’s private life?

    “In My Skin” is Griner’s way of answering that. In one passage, she writes: “Being true to myself has often been at odds with my desire to please others. I’ve spent years trying so hard to be the version of myself that would make the most people happy. Over time, though, I’ve come to realize that no matter how much I compromise, some people will never understand me. And accepting this truth has given me a new level of comfort and freedom.”

    And by expressing that comfort and freedom, Griner said she hopes to empower young people who, like her younger self, spent many nights feeling hopeless and alone. This weekend she is the Grand Marshall in the Phoenix Pride parade, and, along with Blake Skjellerup — an openly gay Olympic speed skater — will be doing a meet-and-greet at the celebration’s youth zone.

     

    [+] EnlargeBrittney Griner, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore

    AP Photo/Stacy BengsBrittney Griner hired longtime NBA assistant Dean Denomopolis to help her with her game this offseason.

     

    “It was important to Phoenix Pride to showcase individuals whom are not only out, but actively using their celebrity to make the world a better place,” said Dani Logan, the celebration’s program manager.

    “One of the hardest parts about growing up was not having any role models,” Griner said. “I mean I don’t know if that would have stopped kids from bullying me, but it would have given me some strength. … There were a lot of days when I was tired of being bullied, that I didn’t have strength.”

    There used to be a time when the thought of someone who was routinely the biggest kid in class — someone who currently stands at 6 feet, 8 inches and 200 pounds — as not having the strength to fight off bullying was ridiculous. But that was before the environment that 6-5, 312-pound Jonathan Martin had to contend with in Miami came to light, and suddenly the size of victims and bullies was diminished.

    “From the very first day, we clicked,” said Janell Roy, a high school teammate of Griner who remains close to her today. “We were like sisters, but she wouldn’t tell me everything that was going on. I guess because she knew I would try to protect her, but there’s only so much you can do, you know?

    “But I saw some of it. Even in our locker room. They would say she was a guy and talk about her sexuality. Sometimes things would get real tense, and that would be hard for her. She didn’t tell me all that had happened to her in middle school until years later. My sister’s been through a lot.”

    Nearly 82 percent of LGBT students are verbally harassed and close to 40 percent are physically harassed, according to the 2011 National School Climate Survey. And unfortunately, there’s no shortage of faces who fall into those categories.

    Faces such as Jack Andraka, the high school whiz kid who in 2012 invented an early detection test for pancreatic cancer at age 15, talks about relentless bullying and thoughts of suicide. His story is not very different from Griner’s. Their stories are not very different from the ones featured in the 2011 documentary “Bully” or the stories regularly heard by volunteers at organizations such as The Human Rights Campaign, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Alliance and The Trevor Project, which the San Francisco 49ers’ Chris Culliver visited as part of his mea culpa for anti-gay statements made during Super Bowl XLVII media week.

    All of it continues to drive Griner.

    “I can’t live my life and pretend as if everything is OK now that I’m a professional basketball player when I know it’s not OK for kids who were like me,” she said.Which is not to suggest her basketball development is taking a back seat to advocacy work.

    Far from it.

    Though fans made her a WNBA All-Star, a knee injury kept Griner from playing in the game. And besides dunking in her first game and hitting a series-clinching jumper over Candace Parker in the first round of the playoffs, Griner’s inaugural season was plagued by foul trouble and overshadowed by Chicago Sky’s Elena Delle Donne, who won rookie of the year honors. There’s work to be done, and she knows it. After signing to play in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association last summer, Griner hired longtime NBA assistant coach Dean Demopoulos to travel with her to help her develop her game.

    “I don’t know if I taught her anything new,” he said. “When we met, she could pretty much do everything. She had the footwork, she had the touch. She can shoot. And I mean really shoot. I spent two years with Ray Allen, so I know what a shooter looks like — she has a stroke. What we worked on was repetition. Taking the second-guessing out of her game and letting things come naturally.”

     

    I can’t live my life and pretend as if everything is OK now that I’m a professional basketball player when I know it’s not OK for kids who were like me.

    – Brittney Griner

     

    The results? MVP honors in the league’s All-Star game and coming a game short of a finals appearance.

    “She could probably play the 4, the 3 — she’s that agile,” Demopoulos said. “It’s going to be interesting to see just how much better she’s going to get, because she has a big glass and it’s not near full.

    “She got it, by the way — that ‘it’ stuff — she’s got it. That charisma you want your franchise player to have. Only thing is she’s got to change that diet. That girl ate Pizza Hut, KFC and candy for four months.”

    But if you let Griner tell it, that was the best thing on the menu.

    “Let’s just say the food was really interesting,” she said with a smile.

    And it is good to see her smile.

    With high cheek bones, flawless cafe-au-lait-colored skin and shoulder-length locks with tips that appear to have been dipped in honey, the great irony about Griner being harassed for her appearance is that she is really beautiful. Sweet, too. The kind of woman who still smiles when referred to being her daddy’s little girl even as her daddy still wrestles with who his little girl is. Early on, Griner writes that her father never wanted her to play beyond the backyard of their home. And when he learned she was gay, he told her, “I ain’t raising no gay girl in my house! You can pack your s— and get the f— out!” And for two months she stayed at an assistant coach’s home before reconciliation.

    An estimated 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT, with nearly half being kicked out of their homes for that reason. Again, statistics resonate more when familiar faces are attached to it.

    “I think we’re getting better,” Griner said. “I still love my family very much. But it’s hard.

    “I guess this is why I thought it was important that I did this book and shared my story. I don’t like thinking about the past and all of that pain. But if talking about it helps just one person — I’ll do it.”

     

    Murphy Criticized Over Paternity Leave April 4, 2014

    Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Sports, Women.
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    Roger’s note: First an openly gay football player in the NFL.  Now Major League baseball players taking paternity leave.  What is this world coming to?  Next thing you know, men will be sharing their feelings.  With other men!  Scary.

    Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg react to the criticism of Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy’s decision to miss the first two games of the season for the birth of his first child; http://www.espn.go.com, April 4, 2014

    NEW YORK — New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy on Thursday calmly deflected talk-radio criticism of his decision to miss the first two games of the season for the birth of his first child.

    “I got a couple of text messages about it, so I’m not going to sit here and lie and say I didn’t hear about it,” Murphy said about the on-air criticism from WFAN Radio of his decision. “But that’s the awesome part about being blessed, about being a parent, is you get that choice. My wife and I discussed it, and we felt the best thing for our family was for me to try to stay for an extra day — that being Wednesday — due to the fact that she can’t travel for two weeks.

     

     

    “It’s going to be tough for her to get up to New York for a month. I can only speak from my experience — a father seeing his wife — she was completely finished. I mean, she was done. She had surgery and she was wiped. Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off. … It felt, for us, like the right decision to make.”

    After receiving word about 11:30 p.m. Sunday that his wife’s water had broken, Murphy traveled from New York to Florida and arrived in time for the birth of 8-pound, 2-ounce son Noah at 12:02 p.m. Monday — about an hour before the first pitch of the Mets’ opener against the Washington Nationals.

    The Mets had Tuesday off before resuming the series Wednesday. Murphy remained with his family through Wednesday, as he was placed on paternity leave, and rejoined the Mets in time for Thursday’s afternoon game against the Nats.

    “You’re a major league baseball player. You can hire a nurse,” Mike Francesa reportedly said of Murphy on WFAN Radio during Wednesday’s show. “What are you gonna do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?”

     

    Daniel Murphy

    AP Photo/Evan VucciSecond baseman Daniel Murphy missed the Mets’ first two games of the season to be in Florida with his wife, Tori, for the birth of their first child.

     

    Murphy said his wife delivered their son by C-section. On another WFAN show, host Boomer Esiason said, in part, that Murphy’s wife should have had a “C-section before the season starts.”

    Esiason issued a lengthy apology Friday at the start of his radio show.

    “I just want to say again on this radio show that in no way, shape or form was I advocating anything for anybody to do. I was not telling women what to do with their bodies. I would never do that,” he said. “That’s their decision, that’s their life and they know their bodies better than I do. And the other thing, too, that I really felt bad about is that Daniel Murphy and Tori Murphy were dragged into a conversation, and their whole life was exposed. And it shouldn’t have been.”

    Mets manager Terry Collins said the criticism was unfair.

    “I’m sure there might be some guy along the way that said, ‘Hey, listen, it’s too far to go. It’s too far to travel. I’ll see you in a few days,'” Collins said. “But you know what? I certainly feel it’s very unfair to criticize Dan Murphy.”

    The collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players’ association allows for up to a three-day absence after being placed on paternity leave.

    Asked if he was surprised about parental-rights criticism in this day and age, Murphy said: “Again, that’s the choice of parents that they get to make. That’s the greatness of it. You discuss it with your spouse and you find out what you think works best for your family.”

    Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins also went on paternity leave Wednesday.

    “We had a really cool occasion yesterday morning, about 3 o’clock. We had our first panic session,” Murphy said. “It was dark. She tried to change a diaper — couldn’t do it. I came in. It was just the three of us at 3 o’clock in the morning, all freaking out. He was the only one screaming. I wanted to. I wanted to scream and cry, but I don’t think that’s publicly acceptable, so I let him do it.”

    The name Noah, by the way, was selected for the biblical significance, not for flame-throwing Mets prospect Noah Syndergaard, Murphy joked.

    “I told Syndergaard he’s the ‘other Noah’ in my life in spring training,” Murphy said. “The first thing when we decided to do it, I was like, ‘People are going to think I named him after the monstrosity that throws like 1,000 miles per hour.’ We didn’t.”

    How Baseball Explains Modern Racism October 3, 2011

    Posted by rogerhollander in Sports.
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     Roger’s note: the “Immortal” Satchel Paige would have transcended the racist umpires, but alas perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time only made it to the Show post-Jackie Robinson, at a time when he was already changing his great grandchildren’s diapers.

    Friday 30 September 2011

    by: David Sirota, Truthout         | Op-Ed

    Despite recent odes to “post-racial” sensibilities, persistent racial wage and unemployment gaps show that prejudice is alive and well in America. Nonetheless, that truism is often angrily denied or willfully ignored in our society, in part because prejudice is so much more difficult to recognize on a day-to-day basis. As opposed to the Jim Crow era of white hoods and lynch mobs, 21st century American bigotry is now more often an unseen crime of the subtle and the reflexive — and the crime scene tends to be the shadowy nuances of hiring decisions, performance evaluations and plausible deniability.

    Thankfully, though, we now have baseball to help shine a light on the problem so that everyone can see it for what it really is.

    Today, Major League Baseball games using the QuesTec computerized pitch-monitoring system are the most statistically quantifiable workplaces in America. Match up QuesTec’s accumulated data with demographic information about who is pitching and who is calling balls and strikes, and you get the indisputable proof of how ethnicity does indeed play a part in discretionary decisions of those in power positions.

    This is exactly what Southern Methodist University’s researchers did when they examined more than 3.5 million pitches from 2004 to 2008. Their findings say as much about the enduring relationship between sports and bigotry as they do about the synaptic nature of racism in all of American society.

    First and foremost, SMU found that home-plate umpires call disproportionately more strikes for pitchers in their same ethnic group. Because most home-plate umpires are white, this has been a big form of racial privilege for white pitchers, who researchers show are, on average, getting disproportionately more of the benefit of the doubt on close calls.

    Second, SMU researchers found that “minority pitchers reacted to umpire bias by playing it safe with the pitches they threw in a way that actually harmed their performance and statistics.” Basically, these hurlers adjusted to the white umpires’ artificially narrower strike zone by throwing pitches down the heart of the plate, where they were easier for batters to hit.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the data suggest that racial bias is probably operating at a subconscious level, where the umpire doesn’t even recognize it.

    To document this, SMU compared the percentage of strikes called in QuesTec-equipped ballparks versus non-QuesTec parks. Researchers found that umpires’ racial biases diminished when they knew they were being monitored by the computer.

    Same thing for high-profile moments. During those important points in games when umpires knew fans were more carefully watching the calls, the racial bias all but vanished. Likewise, the same-race preference was less pronounced at high-attendance games, where umps knew there would be more crowd scrutiny.

    Though gleaned from baseball, these findings transcend athletics by providing a larger lesson about conditioned behavior in an institutionally racist society.

    Whether the workplace is a baseball diamond, a factory floor or an office, when authority figures realize they are being scrutinized, they are more cognizant of their own biases — and more likely to try to stop them before they unduly influence their behavior. But in lower-profile interludes, when the workplace isn’t scrutinized and decisions are happening on psychological autopilot, pre-programmed biases can take over.

    Thus, the inherent problem of today’s pervasive “post-racial” fallacy. By perpetuating the lie that racism doesn’t exist, pretending that bigotry is not a workplace problem anymore, and resisting governmental efforts to halt such prejudice, we create the environment for our ugly subconscious to rule. In doing so, we consequently reduce the potential for much-needed self-correction.

          Copyright 2011 Creators.com
    David Sirota is a best-selling author whose upcoming book “Back to Our Future” will be released in March of 2011. He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado.

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    ‘Los Suns’ Set Against Arizona’s Immigration Law May 6, 2010

    Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Immigration, Race, Racism, Sports.
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    Published on Thursday, May 6, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

    The Phoenix Suns basketball team takes a public stand against Arizona’s law that promotes racial profiling of immigrants

    by Dave Zirin

    A battle has been joined for the very soul of Arizona. On one side, there are the Minutemen, the craven state Republican lawmakers, Governor Jan Brewer, and the utterly unprincipled John McCain, all supporting SB 1070, a law that codifies racial profiling of immigrants in the state. On the other are the Sun Belt residents who protested on 1 May, the students who have engaged in walkouts, and the politicians and civic leaders calling for an economic boycott of their own state.

    This battle has also been joined in the world of sport. On one side is Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. Owned by state Republican moneyman Ken Kendrick, the team has drawn protestors to parks around the US. On the other side, we now have the NBA‘s Phoenix Suns. On Tuesday the news came forth that on Cinco de Mayo, the team would be wearing jerseys that say simply Los Suns. Team owner Robert Sarver said, after talking to the team, that this will be an act of sartorial solidarity against the bill. Their opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, have made clear that they support the gesture.

    In a statement released by the team, Sarver said: “The frustration with the federal government’s failure to deal with the issue of illegal immigration resulted in passage of a flawed state law. However intended, the result of passing this 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.”

    He followed up the statement by saying to reporters: “I looked around our plane and looked at our players and the diversity in our organization. I thought we need to go on record that we honor our diversity in our team, in the NBA and we need to show support for that. As for the political part of that, that’s my statement. There are times you need to stand up and be heard. I respect people’s views on the other side but I just felt it was appropriate for me to stand up and make a statement.”

    After Sarver spoke out, the team chimed in against the passage and signing of SB 1070. Two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash, who in 2003 became the first athlete to go on record against the Iraq war, said: “I think the law is very misguided. I think it is unfortunately to the detriment to our society and our civil liberties and I think it is very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. I think the law obviously can target opportunities for racial profiling. Things we don’t want to see and don’t need to see in 2010.”

    All-Star power forward Amare Stoudamire, who has no political reputation, also chimed in saying: “It’s going to be great to wear Los Suns to let the Latin community know we’re behind them 100%.”

    After the story broke, I spoke on the phone with NBA Players Association president Billy Hunter about the Suns audacious move. “It’s phenomenal,” he said. “This makes it clear to me that it’s a new era. It’s a new time. Athletes can tend to be apolitical and isolated from the issues that impact the general public. But now here come the Suns. I would have expected nothing less from Steve Nash who has been out front on a number of issues over the years. I also want to recognize Amare. I know how strident Amare can be and I’m really impressed to see him channel his intensity. It shows a tremendous growth and maturity on his part. And I have to applaud Bob Sarver because he is really taking a risk by putting himself out there. I commend them. I just think it’s super.” He said that the union would have their own statement out by the end of the week.

    This kind of political intervention by a sports team is without precedent and now every athlete and every team has an opening to stand up and be heard. Because when it’s all said and done, this isn’t just a battle for the soul of Arizona. It’s a battle for the soul of the United States. Here come the Suns indeed.

    © 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited

    Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and the newly published A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press). and his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated.com, New York Newsday and The Progressive. He is the host of XM Radio’s Edge of Sports Radio. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

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