Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Can Progressives be REAL sports fans?

Phoenix Suns wear "Los Suns" jerseys for Game 2 of NBA playoffs. Christian Petersen, Getty Images

Can Progressives be sports fans? Real fans, not just bowtie-wearing George Will-style life-is-like-baseball-and-vice-versa fans. I mean real fans, those who follow their team's ups-and-downs, cheer wildly when they win and suffer publicly in defeat.

Another question: can sports teams be politically active for Progressive causes? Professional teams are corporations and, as corporations, must be politically savvy. They cannot afford to piss off potential fans, especially rich ones who buy skyboxes. Rich fans who buy skyboxes tend to be corporate titans with similar business interests. They speak the same languages -- money and conservative politics. These traits were put on public display with news that the owners of the Arizona Cardinals NFL team were backers of the awful Arizona anti-immigrant law. The Phoenix Suns offered a counterpoint when its players wore "Los Suns" jerseys for their NBA playoff game on Cinco de Mayo. Two amazing things about this: 1. it was the owner's idea; 2. it actually happened. Thus, a pro sports team is now on record opposing a loony right-wing law, even though some of its ticket holders are undoubtedly loony right-wingers. It is Arizona, right?

Here are a few paragraphs about the Suns' decision by Michael Wilbon, sports columnist for the Washington Post:

Instead of embracing a convenient neutrality that might have helped the bottom line with a great many locals who favor a new law that requires local police to check the legal status of suspected undocumented immigrants, Suns owner Robert Sarver called the law "flawed" and "mean-spirited" and asked his players what they thought of wearing "Los Suns" jerseys during Wednesday night's playoff game. Depending on your point of view, it was either an act of support for the Latin community, whose members feel targeted by the law, or an act of defiance toward those in the larger community who are angry over illegal immigration in a border state and rail at any dissent.

The folks here who wanted, at worst, silence picked the wrong team. The Suns locker room has too many independent thinkers, too many activists, too many players whose experiences and sensibilities are, thankfully, a lot broader than most of their neighbors. Sarver's players not only had no problem wearing "Los Suns" jerseys, they felt, to a man, pretty much the same way he did, damn the backlash, and were quite willing to say it. And there was plenty of backlash. Suns Coach Alvin Gentry, an hour before Game 2 against the Spurs tipped off, pointed to his computer, referring to the angry e-mails from folks who wanted the players in lockstep with the state's misguided new law.

Big-time college sports teams, particularly BCS football, love rich alum who buy skyboxes and sink tons of money into the university, usually in the sports programs -- but not always. Coddling rich conservative patrons of its sports programs was behind the University of Wyoming's refusal to let sixties radical Bill Ayers to speak on campus last month. Good to know that your state's only university considers building a few more skyboxes more important than freedom of speech.

What kind of politics are on display at NFL games? The Star-Spangled Banner, military aircraft fly-overs, tributes to veterans, Honor America Day, etc. Sports team wear their conservative politics openly when they name their stadiums after corporations. That's one conservative corporation wearing the banner of another conservative corporation. A wolf dressed in wolf's clothing.

When U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, Arizona State University and the Arizona Cardinals fell all over themselves celebrating his sacrifice. On Sunday, September 19, 2004, all NFL teams wore a memorial decal on their helmets in honor of Tillman. One of Tillman's former teammates was Broncos QB Jake Plummer. He wanted to continue to wear the Tillman decal through the rest of the season just like his former Arizona mates. The NFL said no, that Plummer's helmet would not match those of his Bronco teammates. So Plummer grew a beard and long hair to celebrate the pre-Army Tillman.

He was indeed a brave and principled man who gave up big football bucks to join the Army. Then we discovered that the Pentagon covered up the fact that Tillman was killed by his own men. Tillman had become outspoken in his disenchantment with our overseas misadventures. The public celebrations of heroism evaporated into the mists of history.

What would happen if the NFL declared "Man Enough to Wear Chartreuse" day. Pro rodeo marks "Man Enough to Wear Pink" days to declare its support in the fight against breast cancer. But "Man Enough to Wear Chartreuse" day would mark the struggle for LGBT Equal Rights. How many NFL players and rodeo bareback riders would support that? How many NFL fans would complain, making loud empty threats about turning in their season tickets?

As a prog-blogger with a healthy skepticism, I simply cannot engage in unbridled hero worship. I'm a fan, but a jaundiced one (and I don't even like yellow). I am happy that University of Florida's Tim Tebow was chosen by the Denver Broncos in the NFL draft. I plan to buy a No. 15 Tebow Broncos jersey and wear it publicly. Will Tebow become another Hall-of-Famer like the legendary John Elway? Elway is a Republican, conservative enough to spurn a post-Super-Bowl appearance at the Clinton White House. Tebow is a conservative, a fundamentalist Christian anti-abortion crusader. I am on the opposite end of that issue, as I've written here before. Tebow has enough guts to declare his views publicly on a Super Bowl ad. I'm man enough to support his NFL aspirations. Until he fails and is traded to the Dallas Cowboys. Sure, Tebow is a Gator. But a dedicated Denver Broncos fan cannot cheer for the Dallas Cowboys, no matter whom the quarterback is.

A real fan, Progressive or not, has scruples.


bigfrank said...

"awful Arizona anti-immigrant law"
Ya can you believe it? Wanting someone to follow the LAW in this country? Man the audacity! We should pay for illegals. We should let them undercut the people who live here and let them work for less and put our fellow countrymen out of a job! Hell lets even hope that they are countrymen that even wants this "awful Arizona anti-immigrant law" passed! All these people are doing so much! I can't believe anyone would want to come here legally! We should float their bill when they go into and crowd out our emergency rooms breaking the hospitals down there! We should support the criminals and drug dealers that come across to live that lawless life! After all they are illegal not immigrants.

Michael Shay said...

Let's start by having all the Republican businessmen and farmers and ranchers who hire illegals obey the law. Arrest them for breaking the law and they (and their lawyers) will go crying to their senators and reps to pass a reasonable law. We'd have immigration reform overnight.