SPORTS HELPED accelerate social change when the National Football League pulled the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix after Arizona voters rejected a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The year after the NFL’s action, Arizona voters ushered in a King holiday.
Now it is baseball’s turn to help correct an injustice, in the very same state. Arizona’s new immigration law empowers police to demand documentation from anyone who is suspected of being an illegal immigrant — a practice that would likely oblige most Latinos to carry documentation, even if they’ve fought in wars for the United States or come from families that have been in this country for generations. Opposition to the law has already caused the cancellation of business conventions, and the enactment of travel boycotts by civil rights groups.
But conventions do not pierce the consciousness like major sporting events.
Baseball has an obvious way to demonstrate its disagreement with the law. Phoenix is scheduled to host the 2011 All-Star Game. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig should tell Arizona that the league will move the game if the law is not overturned.
The sport has a big footprint in Arizona; half of all major league teams call Arizona home for spring training. Since the law singles out the nearly 30 percent of the players who are Latino, Major League Baseball also has ample reason to be concerned. Some Latino players and coaches are calling on their sport to move the All-Star Game to a less hostile location.
Professional athletes in other sports are already rallying against the law.
In recommending the pulling of the 1993 Super Bowl, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, representing a league where 60 percent of the athletes were African-American, said, “Many of our players regard Martin Luther King as a role model. We’re encouraging them to be role models, and I think it would be unfair to ask them to go play their championship game in that state.’’ Arizona’s retrograde law has now put baseball in the political batter’s box. The sport can now use its prestige to help knock this new law out of the park.