Thursday, May 6, 2010

Los Suns and the Immigration Debate

From what I can tell, the “Los Suns” jersey adopted by the Suns to salute the Latino community of Arizona in its hour of need has been met by more media enthusiasm than popular enthusiasm. Maybe it was just TNT trying to keep a lid on the political implication, but the crowd seemed mostly to care about hating the Spurs. Which is fair; I’d hate the Spurs virulently were I a Suns fan. But it didn’t seem to me, a faraway observer, that there was much political passion. For what it’s worth, the AP game writer didn’t see much either:
There was almost no evidence in the loud arena of the storm stirred up on Tuesday when Suns owner Robert Sarver issued a statement saying the team would wear "Los Suns" on their jerseys, to celebrate diversity on Cinco de Mayo but also to protest the immigration bill passed by the Arizona legislature and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer.
And you’d assume if the writer would be biased in any direction, it would be towards reporting the controversy. No one caring doesn't attract eyeballs. And, for what it’s worth, the comments section of the Suns blog “Valley of the Suns” shows…fairly reasonable political sentiments (tilted in favor of the law) written in complete sentences sans profanity. It’s as if the internet has decided to become civil overnight.

This type of gesture tends to be taken more seriously by the media than the people; the media loves it because, at heart, they really love stories that feature dramatic gestures and this certainly was that. People are complicated, which means you won’t get unified full-throated support for anything besides Mom and apple pie.

But the Suns’ opposition to the bill reveals immigration to be something like climate change: an issue where the “elites” are far ahead of the people at large. I mean, check out this poll: 51% of Americans believe the bill is “just right” and 9% believes it “doesn’t go far enough” and 54% of Americans believe it will at least “somewhat” deter crime in Arizona. I’d say most of America has thought about the issue and decided for the moment, much to our consternation. That said, I still think it's a long-term political winner for the Democrats, and since they'll take a walloping in the midterms anyway, they might as well pass an immigration bill. But still: the statement of solidarity on the part of Los Suns means they're solidly behind a minority. It must be said.

The list of people who have think it’s wrong is pretty impressive, on the other hand: a few Republican Latinos (though Marco Rubio has flip-flopped to supporting the bill strongly), several elected officials, etc. etc. And it’s worth noting what a risk people like Los Suns or Adrian Gonzalez are taking: the media is always saying to itself, “Wouldn’t it be nice if athletes were more political?” I think it's silly: you can’t just care about participation, you have to care about content, and pretending not to care about content is somewhat odd. And whenever an athlete takes the media up on its dare, there’s usually a blowback (e.g. Tim Tebow and abortion, Steve Nash and the Iraq war, etc.). It’s also worth noting that the media’s model for political engagement, Mohammed Ali went to jail and lost his heavyweight crown over political controversy. Being political, if you’re an athlete, isn’t good business. So you have to want it.  And, at any rate, there's no evidence that the public is really interested in plumbing celebrity's political thoughts. It's just one of those discussions that the media likes to have with itself that the public may or may not be interested in. 

And, at any rate, as you might have gleaned from the news reporting, it’s tough to know how much effect they’ll have anyway. Are we looking to athletes as entertainers or as moral leaders? Moral leadership is a hard-earned title, earned by deeds, and most athletes—most people—don’t earn it. So in many ways it’s difficult to see it having a large effect immediately. But perhaps enough important Americans will all speak out against it and hearts and minds will change. I wouldn’t count on it.

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