Rage Against His Bowling Shirts

A former moveon.org vol shows up wearing slogans deemed anti-American and is forced to move on from his bowling team and alley

The man in the black shirt with large white letters that read "IMPEACH AND IMPRISON" stands out in the blue-collar bowling alley like someone shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

It's December 8, and the patrons of AMF Deer Valley Lanes know Jason Tunay and his inflammatory tee shirts well by now.

And some of them, at least, aren't one bit sorry he's been kicked off his team because of those shirts and the ruckus they've caused.

Ace bowler Jason Tunay in one of his fave tees.
Laura Segall
Ace bowler Jason Tunay in one of his fave tees.

A heavyset woman in a red blouse seated at one of the tables behind the scoring machines, far from the lane where Tunay is talking to other bowlers, greets a buff young man with a military-style haircut with, "Looks like our 'friend' is here."

The military type, wearing a sleeveless tee shirt with two crossed rifles on the front and "3/13 Infantry Regiment" on the back, turns to look in the direction she's pointing.

"Oh, really?" he says. "What's he got on?"

Asked if they are referring to Tunay, the man launches into a brief tirade about how Tunay's been wearing anti-American shirts for weeks, and people are tired of it.

"No, he shouldn't be able to wear shirts like that here," says the man, who would not divulge his name.

Tunay, 35, helped put his four-person team in first place and within striking distance of a $500-per-player prize to be awarded later this month.

Yet despite his strikes and spares, teammates and other bowlers have been pissed off at his choice in bowling shirts since the league season started in September.

Many of the patrons at Deer Valley Lanes are cops or military folks with the stereotypical right-leaning philosophies.

Tensions came to a head in mid-November when Tunay got into a loud argument with an elderly Army veteran who had criticized his Rage Against the Machine "Evil Empire" tee shirt.

The incident caused some of the Deer Valley Lanes bowlers to plan an informal "Patriot Night" on November 30, the same night Tunay's teammates decided to give him the boot.

At the request of one of the teammates, a manager at the Deer Valley Lanes put on a CD of patriotic songs like Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" and Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A."

The event was aimed squarely at Tunay.

"This was a form of patriotism that was like, 'We don't want your kind around here,'" says Cynthia Ribitzki, 26, one of Tunay's few supporters at the bowling alley.

Others felt that Tunay had his say (via the tee shirts) — now it was their turn.

Another squabble soon erupted between Tunay and a few members of the right-wing crowd. And soon after, Tunay's three team members voted him out.

They believe their decision, though harsh, was an attempt to get rid of a problem that was interfering with bowling. People go to Deer Valley Lanes to bowl rather than engage in passionate political discussions.

Politics and religion are poor subjects for polite conversation, they believe. So when a former moveon.org volunteer shows up to a bowling alley, of all things, displaying a series of controversial, left-wing messages — that's looking for trouble.

Tunay admits he could have handled himself better the first time a bowler criticized one of his shirts.

Whether the bowling alley should have taken sides in the dispute is another question.

Ribitzki says the establishment's actions only made the situation worse.

It's unclear what Peggy Cianciola, the manager at Deer Valley Lanes, was thinking when she allowed some patrons to get back at Tunay using the bowling alley's sound system. She declined to comment.

AMF's corporate headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, did not return a call.

The Deer Valley Lanes on Thunderbird Road just west of Interstate 17 is a typical bowling alley. A full-size Christmas tree greets visitors as they walk in. The bar is to the left, lane and shoe rental services to the right.

Leagues start in September and run 35 weeks.

"I don't know anybody at this league," says Tunay, a third-generation Filipino-American with bushy black eyebrows, short black hair and a vague mustache. "I go because I like to win money."

Tunay says he averages 180 points a game, which isn't shabby.

When he decided to join the league at Deer Valley, he was put on a team with Debbie Thompson, a Deer Valley Lanes regular who had bowled there with her friends for five years.

Tunay apparently made a crappy first impression.

"The very first night, he was wearing a tee shirt that, to me, was personally offensive," says Thompson, a young blonde. "It said, 'Bush Is the Anti-Christ.'"

Tunay, a trainer for a student loan company, claims he wasn't trying to get attention or persuade others to adopt his political views. He always wears tee shirts bearing political statements or rock concert artwork when he's not at work, he says, and he staunchly defends his First Amendment right to do so.

He also notes that the bowling alley has no dress code.

His tee shirts were different every week, but the messages were similar.

Army veteran Dave Johnson says that after seeing Tunay's shirts for weeks, one spurred him to say something. It was the Rage Against the Machine shirt promoting the band's 10-year-old album, and depicting a large American flag with the words "Evil Empire" emblazoned beneath.

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