If sports are the social change agent that they have proved themselves to be time after time—think Jackie Robinson and baseball integration, college sports' Title IX, and Magic Johnson's tireless work on AIDS awareness and treatment—then what's the right answer for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig when it comes to Arizona's harsh new immigration laws? In response, should Selig pull the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona, as U.S. Representative Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) and others have requested? Should baseball's Hispanic players, who make up close to 30 percent of team rosters, boycott games? And where's the leverage from fans?
Although signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer last week, SB 1070, which requires police to check suspected illegal immigrants for proper paperwork, will not take effect until midsummer. The role sports should take in this broader social platform is going to be debated at least until this year's All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif. And the issue is certainly not restricted to baseball—almost every major American pro sport, from the NFL to Nascar, has stepped up its efforts to draw Hispanic fans. What's more, almost every major U.S. professional sport has a presence in Arizona. So the negative focus being placed right now on MLB and its Arizona Diamondbacks is, for starters, way out of proportion.
So far, besides the calls for an All-Star Game pullout, immigration rights groups protested at last week's Diamondbacks-Cubs game at Chicago's Wrigley Field, and more such demonstrations are being planned whenever Arizona team hits the road. The Diamondbacks are reportedly being targeted because of co-owner Ken Kendrick's heavy involvement in Arizona's Republican party, which sponsored the bill. The team does not take a stand on any political issues and has said that Kendrick does not personally support the new law. MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner, meanwhile, issued a statement Friday opposing the law as written and claiming the union would "consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members" if the law is enacted.
The "Los Suns" Jerseys
Grassroots organizers have claimed they won't go after the other 13 MLB teams that make up Arizona's Cactus league—worth an estimated $350 million to the state's economy—and for now, other pro sports and college football, whose BCS National Championship Game is scheduled for Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium in January, haven't been targeted. On Monday, however, the Associated Press reported that the Mexico-based World Boxing Council "will not schedule Mexican fighters for bouts in Arizona to protest what it called the state's 'shameful, inhuman, and discriminatory' immigration law," and organizers who hope to bring the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup to Phoenix are concerned the controversy will cause people to blackball the region.
The NBA, with its high-profile "éne-bé-a" Hispanic marketing campaign, perhaps has more reason than other pro sports leagues to engage in the issue. On Tuesday, the league made its introductory remarks by way of Phoenix Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver, who denounced Arizona's "controversial new immigration bill" and confirmed the team would wear their Los Suns jerseys during Wednesday's Cinco de Mayo home Game 2 against the Spurs. Said Sarver in a statement: "The result of passing this law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question."
The stage is set, therefore, for MLB to make its own bold statement on the issue, following in the footsteps of the NFL and NFLPA, which in 1993 moved Super Bowl XXVII from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.. to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., because Arizona did not recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day. "The gloves are off, and the benches are cleared," says Gregory Wald, an attorney specializing in immigration issues for national firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. "We are already seeing the first wave of litigation challenging the constitutionality of this unprecedented law, and no doubt, there will be economic boycotts as well."