Steve Nash and Grant Hill had no reason to speak up.
They are both wildly successful NBA stars, both members of a Phoenix Suns team battling for a title, both wealthy beyond belief. Most importantly (in regards to this column), they are both universally liked. Whether you're black or white, young or old, rich or poor, Christian or Jewish or Muslim, liberal or conservative, you have to appreciate the way Nash and Hill have handled themselves through the course of their lengthy and distinguished careers.
So, again, there was absolutely nothing for the two men to gain last week.
Which is why their words and actions matter so much.
In the aftermath of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signing into law a bill that makes the failure to carry immigration papers a crime (the person has to be detained for some other reason but that could be jaywalking) and allows police in her state to determine through "reasonable suspicion" (By hunch? By a flip of the coin? By a consultation with Sylvia Browne? By a visit to Taco Bell?) whether a person is here illegally, the vast majority of non-Hispanic professional athletes did what we have come to expect of our modern gladiators: Zip. The same men who fight so forcefully for Nike shoe deals and Coca-Cola commercials and lucrative free-agent contracts stood aside as one of the most racist, most xenophobic bills of the past 30 years came to pass. When asked, most waved their hands in the air and -- quite ironically -- danced the ol' "Me no speak politics" two-step.
Especially telling was this comment from Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch, a nice enough fellow who won't be confused with Jackie Robinson anytime soon: "We're a baseball team, not a political entity ... one of the things you learn in this game is to control what you can control and not worry about the rest."
In other words: Can we (gulp) please talk about something else? Pretty please?
Within two years, odds are Hinch will be gone and forgotten in Phoenix. Managers come, managers go, no one particularly notices. The same, however, cannot be said of Nash and Hill. They are staples of the state; men whose jerseys are adorned by thousands of Arizonans. Yet instead of cowering like so many others, they showed us something refreshing: Social rage. Appearing on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, Nash, who is Canadian, didn't mince his words. "I think that this is a bill that really damages our civil liberties," he said. "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."
Hill loudly praised Robert Sarver, the Suns owner (and another man willing to step forward for what's righteous) who made a strong statement by having his players wear "Los Suns" jerseys for the second game of their playoff series against the Spurs. "To me," Hill said, "it's a greater injustice to not speak up, regardless that some people are going to be angry because they think we should just play ball. One, this is an incredibly important issue. Two, it's the right thing to do."
Throughout history, moral righteousness has had its place in professional sports. From Robinson to Muhammad Ali to Juan Carlos and Tommy Smith, certain athletes were anxious to use their platforms to accomplish greater good. They stood up, they withstood criticism, they made a point.
But -- with the exception of Nash, Hill and San Diego reliever Heath Bell -- where are the non-Hispanic athletes when we need them? From Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Diamonbacks infielder Augie Ojeda to White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, Latin ballplayers have rightly called out the new law for the vile hate legislation that it is. Yet why aren't white and African-American players incensed as well? This isn't a Republican vs. Democrat issue, so much as it is decency vs. hatred. Why didn't Bud Selig relocate next year's Arizona-based All-Star Game ... yesterday? Why isn't a Derek Jeter or Peyton Manning or Kobe Bryant screaming, "I live in a diverse world -- and this isn't diversity!" If clubhouses and locker rooms constitute families (as jocks like to insist), where is brotherhood when brotherhood is truly needed? As the Los Angeles-born Ojeda noted recently, "I don't know the details, but if I leave the park after a game and I get stopped, am I supposed to have papers with me? I don't think that's fair."
It's not. Truth is, the new law should have people -- jocks included -- deeply concerned. It means visit Arizona at your own peril. It means certain ethnicities are welcome more than others. It means racism is alive and well in the United States of America.
It means someone needs to take a stand.
Someone with guts.