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Sports Organizations Enter Political Fray & PR Battle

In the last weeks I’ve thought a lot about a hot button issue that began with a political decision, yet has touched sports organizations from the National Basketball League to Major League Baseball…or should I say that they hit on the topic by no choice of their own.

As if the Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070 2010 needed more steam, the topic of immigration has jumped to Page One of several sports searches because professional organizations and athletes have either voiced opinions or taken action to show dissatisfaction for the legislation.

The law, which will require police to verify a person’s immigration status if there’s “reasonable suspicion” that he/she is in the United States illegally, is scheduled to take affect in July.

Major League Baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, is being pressured by groups and individuals that include the Major League Baseball Players Association, to move next year’s All-Star game from Phoenix because of the controversial law.

Some groups find the law, that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed last month, to be unconstitutional and prejudicial.

Game One of the NBA Western Conference final experienced an unexpected pre-game event when dozens of people staged a peaceful protest outside Staples Center before the Los Angeles Lakers played the Phoenix Suns because Lakers coach, Phil Jackson, wouldn’t publicly oppose Arizona’s new law. The prelude to the May 17 action was the Suns’ show of support for diversity when they wore “Los Suns jerseys on May 5 (Cinco de Mayo).

Phoenix Suns’ Steve Nash, a Canadian, said on ESPN’s PTI: “I think that this is a bill that really damages our civil liberties. I think it opens up the potential for racial profiling … racism. I think it’s a bad precedent to set for our young people. I think it represents our state poorly in the eyes of the nation and the world. I think that we have a lot of great attributes here and [this law] is something that we could do without. And I hope it will change in the coming weeks.”

“The frustration with the federal government’s failure to deal with the issue of illegal immigration resulted in passage of a flawed state law. However intended, the result of passing this law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question, and Arizona’s already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when the state can ill-afford them,” said Phoenix’s managing partner, Robert Sarver.

It’s not unusual for individuals to take stands on national and world issues, but leagues and teams typically stick to sports when it comes to public expression. There is precedent, however. As noted in a story entitled “Arizona’s Immigration Law: A Sports Story” published by theAtlantic, the state of Arizona was at the center of dispute in 1993 when the NFL pulled Super Bowl XXVII out of Tempe, Ariz., because the state didn’t recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (it has since voted to recognize the law mandating the day be observed).

My question to you is this: do professional sports organizations and those affiliated with them have a civil duty to speak for or against laws? Do politics have a place in the often-cushy world of sports, or do these organizations have enough to worry about with increased public scrutiny and media attention about the behavior of their personnel on and off the field and court? Does political expression hurt a sports organization’s brand and image, often carefully crafted by PR pros? Let us know what you think.


Ken Lund

Urban Mixer

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One Response to Sports Organizations Enter Political Fray & PR Battle

  1. Jamie Favreau May 21, 2010 at 3:39 am #

    The answer is NO. But the problem is that they are a money making machine and they have the press and the star power to get the awareness out. I do not think athletes or organizations like the NBA, MLB or NHL should get involved in anything political. They are sports organizations and they are in the sports business. Getting involved in anything political is a slippery slope which I don't think they should be crossing.

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