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Giants exec’s reaction tells us about the power of Monty Williams and Devin Booker’s words

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Farhan Zaidi is questioning his relationship with the City of Scottsdale, another reminder of what happens when the sports world gets involved with unexamined institutions.

Orlando Magic v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“F**k that guy.”

Farhan Zaidi, the president of the San Francisco Giants, said it about as simply as possible, so I’ll use his words in place of mine. This was Zaidi’s reaction to a protest that took place less than a mile from my house, a new community I just moved into that is already embarrassing me. You probably know the one. This was the anti-mask protest (because I guess this is where we are) organized by Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips.

I guess not the protest itself, but specifically the abhorrent words used by Phillips when he loped up to the stage to put on a show he seems to think was funny. Phillips equated wearing his mask with the final words of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe.” You know, the man who begged for his life as police officers took it away, who called out to his dead mother as he realized he was dying. And Phillips, because a piece of cloth over his mouth is apparently the most terrorizing thing he can imagine, decided his pain was similar to that of Floyd. This happened.

I return to Zaidi’s words again. They’re important because Zaidi runs the franchise that just poured a bunch of money into a nice, new Spring Training facility and a connected events center. His words hold power in a way that we know speaks to people like Phillips, who is also a member of the Better Business Bureau and the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce. Zaidi speaks for a business, the Giants, that holds sway over the economics of Scottsdale.

“I know we’ll have some internal conversations about that,” Zaidi told Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic. “I don’t know how you could watch that and not be angry about it. And angry may be too simple a term. As for what recourse we have, I wouldn’t want to speak to that.”

Zaidi may not want to speak to it, but he at least addressed it. The Giants are going to have “internal conversations.” Maybe nothing comes of it, but money talks. And sports talk, as we’ve learned time and again but especially during this wild summer of dual national crises at which athletes have been at the center. There is power in Zaidi’s words.

And there is power in his actions. The Giants also recently decamped from Scottsdale after several players tested positive for COVID-19, something that is likely not entirely unrelated from the insistence of clubs in Old Town Scottsdale to remain open by shirking state law. Bars or clubs of any sort are not supposed to be open in Phase 1 of reopening, but they did so anyway because they technically serve food and can therefore classify themselves as restaurants. Nearly every establishment in Old Town willingly shut down for at least a week after several were cited. By that time, the Giants were long gone.

This is why it was so important when Suns coach Monty Williams spoke out against racial injustice earlier this month, and why I criticized the organization for releasing a podcast with managing partner Robert Sarver that did not include any discussion of the racial uprising that has affected Arizona and cities across the nation. It’s why I also continue to press the question of where Devin Booker has been, as perhaps the most famous athlete in the state makes headlines solely for who he’s dating rather than what he has to say about this moment. This is not to dictate where his head is at or presume to tell him what to do, only to acknowledge how big his microphone is and how glaring his silence has been.

Last week, Kyler Murray clearly and passionately said he stood for the rights of Black people and was done keeping quiet. He promised to kneel in protest of police brutality and systemic racism when the NFL kicks off in September, and kindly told a fan on Instagram to shut up when he questioned Murray. This matters so much.

Name me the most outspoken and well-respected Black athlete not named Larry Fitzgerald in the history of Arizona sports. Is it Charles Barkley, who last played in the Valley almost 30 years ago? Is it Brittney Griner, who many can’t be bothered to remember plays here? Murray and Williams going out of their way to press the matter in a predominantly white state with one of the country’s most violent police forces and aggressive immigration policy will, over time, change the discourse in Arizona around these issues. This is a simple fact of their platforms.

The same was true of Zaidi. Regardless of what comes of his words toward Councilman Phillips, who was widely panned by others including by Gov. Doug Ducey, the fact is Zaidi made his point.

Others in MLB, across sports, and around the country will hear them and think twice about what Scottsdale is and what it stands for. That could affect business decisions, which can in turn dictate change.

Just remember that as people like Murray and Williams (and perhaps one day Booker) continue to discuss the plight of Black Americans and get their bearings in a state that has plenty of its own unexamined problems.