Posted on May 12, 2010 by Robert C. Seiger

While the business community has largely attempted to stay out of the debate surrounding Arizona’s Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (Senate Bill 1070), professional basketball team Phoenix Suns jumps to the center of the debate over the Bill with the team’s decision to wear “Los Suns” jerseys during its playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs on Cinco de Mayo. Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, announced his disagreement with the Bill, describing it as “mean-spirited.” All of the Sun’s players were reportedly in favor of the decision to wear the jerseys.

Sarver was quoted as saying, “I thought we need to go on record that we honor our diversity in our team, in the NBA, and we need to show support for that. As for the political part of that, that’s my statement.” The Suns currently have three foreign-born players on the team.

Groups opposing the Bill have looked to sports teams and leagues to influence the discussion. Some have called on Major League Baseball to move its 2011 All-Star game from Phoenix – just as the Super Bowl was moved 20 years ago when Arizona refused to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a state holiday. Recent efforts have prompted Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to write ESPN on responding to the sports boycott requests, which she labeled as “misguided.”

Sports in America have become increasingly international, with players coming from around the globe. In fact, it is international players that dominate the roster of some of our major professional sports teams. The National Hockey League, for example, is made up of 80 percent of players who were born and raised outside of the United States. On the University level, a significant number of our colleges and universities actively seek international talent to gain a competitive edge. While these players may initially come to the United States either as a student-athlete or on a P-visa (a visa designated by immigration as a visa for professional athletes), these same athletes often seek permanent residence or citizenship to remain in the United States at the conclusion of their careers. As a result, we may see professional athletes and their teams play a significant role in shaping the immigration debate.