New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey applauded the NBA's Phoenix Suns uniform protest of Arizona's strict new anti-immigration law in Saturday's "Walking Tentatively in Protester's Shoes," suggesting only that it didn't go far enough and even calling for Major League Baseball to boycott games in Arizona. The column also put in perspective the paper's long-time hypocrisy on athletes making political statements.
When the Phoenix Suns wore the name Los Suns on their jerseys Wednesday night, it was construed by many of their fans as a political statement against the new Arizona law regarding illegal immigrants.
As a political gesture, it fell far below the black gloves worn by two American sprinters in the 1968 Olympics. However, there definitely was a measure of criticism of the law from high up on the team -- including from the Suns' owner, Robert Sarver; the general manager, Steve Kerr; and players like Grant Hill, Amar'e Stoudemire and Steve Nash.
It was refreshing to hear reaction to current events from sports figures. It is easy to take pot shots at athletes and team officials for living in a bubble, isolated by money and fame. When athletes care about something, conservative or liberal, it is a sign they are alive.
Vecsey's stand is no surprise, coming from a newspaper that can't just let athletes play but tries to enlist them into pushing liberal social agendas. The Times ran an editorial on November 18, 2002, suggesting that Tiger Woods boycott The Masters golf tournament out of solidarity with women who aren't allowed to become members of Augusta National Golf Club, host of the tournament.
And one wishes that Vecsey's claim about supporting "reaction to current events from sports figures" whether "conservative or liberal" was actually true. The fact is that Times columnists praise liberal political symbolism by athletes but chide athletes who make symbolic acts on more conservative terrain.
Here's columnist Selena Roberts on tennis star Jennifer Capriati in a March 26, 2003 column, "Women on Tour Out of Tune." Capriati requested a particular song by Outkast be played during her prematch warm-up in support of the troops in Iraq (the war had just begun). The song included the chorus "Bombs over Baghdad."
...Capriati said through Tour officials yesterday. "And I wanted to support the troops."
Politics aside, her logic was questionable. How uplifting is a song illuminated by such abrasive lyrics? But Capriati made a wish, and it was granted. Star power has its privileges on the women's tour, but it is often misspent on petty demands instead of tennis reform.
Fellow sports columnist Harvey Araton actually faulted the Duke women's lacrosse team, in a May 26, 2006 column, for supporting their fellow male lacrosse athletes falsely accused of rape. (The women's team wore headbands that read INNOCENT at a lacrosse match.) He even questioned why college administrators had not intervened to stop the women.
Innocent until ? Presumed innocence? Those are sweatband statements that would be more palatable. Even then, does cross-team friendship and university pride negate common sense at a college as difficult to gain admission to as Duke? Has anyone -- from the women's lacrosse coach, Kerstin Kimel, to the Duke president, Richard H. Brodhead -- reminded the players of the kind of behavior they are staking their own reputations on?
Of course, there was no bad "behavior;" the stripper lied about the rape.
Back to Vecsey, who justified Phoenix GM Kerr's ignorant and offensive comparison of the Arizona law to Nazi Germany:
Kerr described the new law as something out of Nazi Germany. He is entitled to his vision of what happens when passion and prejudice get out of hand, inasmuch as his father, Malcolm H. Kerr, was assassinated in 1984 while serving as president of the American University in Beirut.
If Kerr keeps making those kinds of quality insights, he just might have the chops to be the Times's next Supreme Court reporter.
Vecsey descended into paranoia with his closing call for boycotts. (Vecsey's "shoe posse" crack is a reference to Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray suggesting police will check out the clothing of people they suspect of being in the country illegally.)
One thing the new Arizona law might do is encourage solidarity among players of color. Torii Hunter of the Angels, a really good guy, recently made an ill-phrased comment, including the word "impostors," about Latino players being counted with black players. Hunter knows better. The fear is real that anybody in Arizona, any athlete, anybody of color, could get hauled in by the shoe posse.
Speaking as somebody with relatives of various hues and backgrounds, I wouldn't want them going to Arizona during the current time of the troubles. I also worry about the health of the ballplayers.
If any All-Stars feel the Arizona Flu coming on, they should lie down and rest.