Given that professional sports teams rely on sponsorships, broadcast rights and ticket sales as their primary sources of income, most teams avoid controversy like the plague. The goal is to appeal to as many people as possible. Which makes what the Suns announced today all the more remarkable. As a very clear statement on Arizona’s new approach to illegal immigrants, the Suns will be playing game 2 of their second round series against the hated San Antonio Spurts in their Los Suns uniforms. On Cinco de Mayo. Bold, courageous, noble. And very rare.
Pro teams do all they can to appeal to the masses. Variable ticket pricing, variety of food choices, inoffensive broadcasters, the list goes on and on. Teams are apolitical, hate controversy and try to be all things to all people. When your goal is to sell 20,000 (or 40,000 or 80,000) tickets to each home game, the last thing you can afford to do is offend anyone.
The same goes for players. Although some (but not all) high profile athletes got behind Barack Obama in 2008, most want to appear neutral when it comes to divisive issues such as religion or politics. If the goal is to attract the family friendly sponsors of the world, sports icons stay away from anything that might offend anyone.
Which is what made this news a double-double. Not only did the Suns make a very bold statement by deciding to wear the Los Suns unis on Wednesday and letting the world know why they did it, but their superstar MVP point guard went on PTI and very clearly expressed his point of view. Steve Nash, in no uncertain terms, backed his team and expressed his outrage at the new law. When was the last time a superstar athlete took a position on a lightning rod issue like this? Aside from Muhammad Ali protesting Vietnam, I really can’t think of another example. If it is true that roughly half the population of Arizona supports the new law, then the Suns and Steve Nash know full well that their positions are going to upset a lot of people. Yet, they went public anyway.