Rage Against His Bowling Shirts

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.

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 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.

Johnson, who was wearing a shirt on December 8 displaying a cross-looking bald eagle and the words "We Are Watching You," says he could take no more. He walked up to Tunay a few lanes over and told him, "I think that's a sick shirt."

An agitated Tunay followed Johnson back to his seat.

"He stood with his arms folded and said, 'I want you to look at this,'" Johnson said. "I said, 'I'm an Army veteran.' He said, 'You're a veteran and you're ignorant.'"

Another bowler, Faye Stancill, who watched as the argument unfolded, says she was annoyed at Tunay's frequent use of the word "fuck." A third bowler then grabbed Tunay from behind and told him to sit down.

"I'm not saying I'm blameless," Tunay concedes.

Thompson, who knows quite a few of the bowlers at Deer Valley, says after the incident she became embarrassed to have Tunay on her team.

Word spread that bowlers should wear red, white and blue at the next league night, the week after Thanksgiving. That night, on November 30, Thompson asked the bowling alley to play the patriotic music CD, with the intent of sending a message to Tunay.

"They even played the national anthem several times," Tunay says. "It was specifically directed at me. I wish I could somehow say I was exaggerating."

While this was going on, Tunay went over to the soda machine to get a drink. That night, he was wearing a shirt that had a picture of President Bush and the words, "International Terrorist."

As he walked by, a guy wearing an Army Special Forces tee shirt "starts laughing in my face and starts being an ass. I said, 'Fuck you.' I mean, whatever."

Tunay suddenly found himself surrounded by a few vocally angry patrons.

At that point, observers say, manager Cianciola intervened.

"She comes over and says, 'It's time for you to leave,'" Tunay says.

Ribitzki says that's what troubled her the most. She fired off a two-page letter to AMF the next day.

"His skin color and T-shirt do not make him any less deserving of being treated with courtesy and decency," Ribitzki wrote. "It was sad, disturbing, and in my personal opinion, the bowling alley contributed to singling out this man for being different, and, in a sense, encouraged others to confront him by not stopping others from attacking him and threatening to remove him instead."

Tunay ignored Cianciola's command to leave and bowled out the rest of the night. However, his teammate, Thompson, says the situation had gotten too intense — so she and her two friends voted Tunay off the team, as the rules allowed them to do.

Mark Sims, president of the league, says he walked Tunay out to his car and told him of his teammates' decision. They agreed if Tunay paid his league dues for the remaining weeks, he would get the prize money if his team won.

"I said, 'I agree with you — Bush is one of the worst presidents we've ever had,'" Sims says he told Tunay.

Tunay showed up to the bowling alley December 8 with his "Impeach and Imprison" shirt to pay his dues.

He won't bowl there anymore, he says.

But he might show up every now and then to support Ribitzki's team — and he'll be wearing his best.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern