Sports leagues and teams often try their best to avoid political issues, but sometimes such discussions are unavoidable. In a week where the NBA saw Jason Collins break barriers as the first openly gay man to take the field of play in one of North America's four biggest sports leagues, the subject of gay rights and equality is on the minds of many sports professionals and fans. It's a historic moment with wide-ranging implications.
Two professional basketball teams have now spoken out on another gay rights issue, although this one impacts much more than locker rooms. Last week, the state legislature of Arizona passed a bill that would allow business owners to refuse to serve anyone as long as they cite their personal religious beliefs. The bill is widely seen as cover for businesses to discriminate against LGBT Arizonans (in addition to what is already allowed) and has proven very controversial, with even many prominent Republicans calling on Governor Jan Brewer to veto the law. She has until Saturday to do so.
As that deadline nears, the NBA's Phoenix Suns and WNBA's Phoenix Mercury have voiced their support for the LGBT community. They released a statement on the Mercury's Twitter account on Tuesday night:
The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury issue the following statement regarding Arizona Senate Bill 1062: “Sports has the unique power to unite, to bring together a community without regard to individual differences. The Phoenix Suns & Phoenix Mercury are proud members of this community, and we embrace fans, families and businesses of every stripe. We are steadfastly committed to the principles of inclusivity and acceptance, and cannot support anything that is not in line with that philosophy.”
This is not the first time that the teams have spoken out against a controversial bill in the state legislature. During the 2010 playoffs, the Suns wore their Noche Latina "Los Suns" jerseys to show support for Arizona's Latino community at a time when state reps were working on a law that would allow police officers to stop any citizen they suspected of being an illegal immigrant, which was seen as a case of unfair racial profiling.
The gay rights issue is particularly important to the Mercury, which counts openly gay superstar Brittney Griner among its players and does not shy away from embracing the LGBT community. In many ways, this move was a no-brainer decision for both teams given their interests and connections.
In making this statement, both teams echoed the sentiment put forth by NBA commissioner Adam Silver when he congratulated Collins on becoming a member of the Nets. The NBA and WNBA aim to be inclusive organizations and businesses, and Arizona's law, even if it does not preclude either league from serving LGBT fans, flies in the face of those practices. If these leagues and teams truly believe in their involvement with the community and do not see themselves just as businesses to serve potential costumers, then they must argue against this pending law.
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