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A steady thrum is increasing in volume outside Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig's door to move the 2011 All Star Game out of Phoenix. Recent laws passed in Arizona—from banning ethnic studies in the Tucson public schools to mandating that the police demand the papers of “suspicious” immigrants—have mobilized people to take the Boycott Arizona campaign to Selig's door.
In addition to written requests to move the game from the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Congressman Jose Serrano, whose district includes Yankee Stadium, more than 100,000 people have signed a petition asking Selig to make the move.
As Favianna Rodriguez of movethegame.org said to me, "Not only are more than a quarter of the League’s players Latino, but so is a large part of the fan base. Now, in Arizona, these players and fans risk being harassed and even arrested on their way to the ballpark just because of how they look or their accent. We will not stand for laws like SB 1070, which treat Latinos like second-class citizens, and neither should Bud Selig.”
Selig, after weeks of hemming and hawing, came out with his answer last week. When asked if they would move the game, he fumed, “Apparently all the people around and in minority communities think we’re doing OK. That’s the issue, and that’s the answer. I told the clubs today: ‘Be proud of what we’ve done.’ They are. We should. And that’s our answer. We control our own fate, and we’ve done very well.”
It’s not clear what “minority communities” Selig is referring to, but if he believes that statement is going to isolate Major League Baseball from becoming ensnared in the immigration debate, he is being naive.
As Move the Game has documented, fifteen players have spoken out against the bill: Jorge Cantu, Augie Ojeda, Michael Young Frank Francisco. Alexei Ramírez, Adrian Gonzalez. César Izturis, Heath Bell. Rod Barajas, Scott Hairston. Joe Saunders. Bobby Abreu, Yorvit Torrealba, José Guillén, and Kyle McClellan.
Here’s what Cantu told the Miami Herald: “This hits me in the heart. I do not accept it. It’s a shame. It is sad news for my country, but not only Mexicans. Latin people. It’s just a shame for all those people here looking for a better life. They are looking for a better standard of living, and this knocks down their dreams. It is really upsetting.”
Of these players, Gonzalez and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen have said that they would be boycott the All Star game if played in Phoenix.
The tension on the field is exceeded by what’s happening off the field. The Arizona Diamondbacks have become the traveling road show for this legislation. This isn’t because they have the word “Arizona” in their name. It’s because their owner Ken Kendrick is a serious money man for the Republican Party.
We’ve now seen protests at every road stop of the D-backs since the law was passed: Denver to Chicago to Houston, to Florida to Atlanta. This coming Saturday, on a national day of action against Arizona’s laws, there stands to be the biggest of these protests in San Francisco, where people will be marching on AT&T Park. Diana Macasa, one of the march organizers, said to me, “We're marching on the Diamondbacks because if Arizona shows us anything, it’s that the attacks—no matter where you live—are escalating, and we want to send a message that this must stop now.”
The players on the field and the protesters off know that Major League Baseball, with its utter dependence on both the Latino players and the economic bonanza of the All Star game, is susceptible to pressure.
As McClellan said, “The All-Star game, it’s going to generate a lot of revenue. Look at what it did here for St. Louis. It was a huge promotion for this city and this club, and it’s one of those things where it’s something that would definitely leave a mark on them if we were to pull out of there. It would get a point across.”l
This is what Bud Selig is up against. He is going to have to understand that whatever his final decision, there is no untangling sports and politics here. Players and fans will view his final decision as a political choice.
Dave Zirin is the author of “A People’s History of Sports in the United States.” He writes a monthly column for The Progressive. This is from the upcoming July issue of The Progressive.