Robert Sarver

On May 5, as the Phoenix Suns were preparing for an NBA playoff game, a national debate was raging over a newly passed Arizona law requiring police to more forcefully pursue illegal immigrants. To protest the measure, Robert Sarver, the team's owner, came up with the idea of having the team take the court in jerseys bearing the moniker “Los Suns”—an unusually explicit political statement by a major sports franchise.

By
Antony Hare

When the law was first passed, a number of our players and I were not in favor of it. My view was that it was not going to stop illegal immigration, that parts of it would encourage racial profiling, and that people who were Arizona residents—and U.S. citizens—could be treated differently than me, based on the color of their skin. I also thought it would have a negative impact on Arizona’s image. I did worry a little bit about angering fans who supported the law, but my dad taught me at a young age that you need to vote with your heart, not your wallet. And there are times when you need to stand up for what you think is right, regardless of the financial ramifications.

So we had some discussions with the players about it. Given the fact that we were playing on Cinco de Mayo, in a big game, we thought that it would be a good idea to wear those uniforms as a show of support for our legal Arizona Hispanic fans. The team was 100 percent unanimous, and they felt good about it. A number of our players are citizens of other countries, and the NBA in general has a tremendous amount of international diversity, so I think it helped bring us together to support a cause that we thought was worthy.

A lot of people looked at the decision as an inappropriate mixture of sports and politics. But I think it’s naive to say that sports and politics don’t mix. I mean, how do stadiums and arenas get built? They get built through politics and political connections. Almost all professional sports owners are active in politics to support candidates and causes, but it’s usually based on a financial agenda. To me, this law was more of a human-rights issue—and just an issue of fairness—than it was political.

The jerseys definitely got the attention of a lot of people, and we received a lot of comments—I’d say about half in support and half against. But I am happy I did it. I think it was the right thing to do, and I’m proud of the fact that our players took a stance. And in addition, I’ll say that we were 3–0 with those jerseys.

—As told to Timothy Lavin, senior editor, The Atlantic

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/robert-sarver/308272/