Sports and politics became intertwined when civil rights activists targeted one of the biggest sporting events in the world as they fought Arizona’s refusal to observe the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday.
The Super Bowl, already awarded to the state, turned into a political pawn, one that moved in the activists’ favor when then NFL decided to shift the 1993 game to California and the Rose Bowl.
Arizona managed to land another Super Bowl three years later — after voters approved the holiday — but the damage had been done, costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from the game and lost conventions.
Two decades later, Arizona is again caught in a tangle of balls and bills, the focal point this time Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.
The Midsummer Classic, to be played Tuesday at Chase Field, has turned into a well-lighted stage for activists to voice their displeasure with SB1070, the polarizing immigration law they say promotes racial profiling.
“We’re using this All-Star game to remind people what’s happening in Arizona and using it as a platform to talk about injustices this law creates and to find better solutions to this,” said Luis Avila, president of the Phoenix-based Hispanic civil rights group Somos America.
“We have been getting calls and emails the past two weeks as to what kind of documentation they should bring to the All-Star game because they’re concerned about being pulled over. That’s not the country that we live in. We shouldn’t be afraid and worrying about what documents we should be carrying with us.”
SB1070 was signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010 as a way to curb the influx of illegal immigrants into the state. The law requires all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers and requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question people’s immigration status if there is a reasonable suspicion they’re in the country illegally.
One of the strictest anti-illegal immigration measures in recent U.S. history, SB1070 set off a series of protests, boycotts and legal challenges almost immediately after Brewer put down her pen. Baseball became an easy target for protesters, in part because of this year’s All-Star game, but also because roughly 30 percent of the players in the majors are Latino.
Activists initially called for baseball to move the game from the state and a handful of demonstrators delayed Arizona Diamondbacks games, at home and on the road, by waving anti-immigration law signs, including a pair who ran out onto the field during a game at Washington.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig declined to move the game, however, refusing to get involved in what he said was a political issue, so opponents of the law shifted their focus by asking players, coaches and fans to boycott the game as part of a wider call for companies to stop doing business with the state.
“We find the talk of boycotts completely wrong because what you end up doing is you end up taking out your agenda against people, especially in the tourism industry, who have nothing to do with passage of the law,” said Garrick Taylor of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “That’s why we find that particularly offensive.”
Several baseball players spoke out against the law when it was initially signed and a handful said they might skip the All-Star game if picked, including Boston Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
The furor has abated somewhat since a federal judge put the most controversial parts of the law on hold less than a day before it was to take effect so the courts could take a closer look. Brewer has said she plans to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
None of Arizona’s Latino players would comment about the law and there are no indications any players or coaches will skip the game, including Gonzalez, a starter for the American League.
The Major League Players Association initially said it opposed SB1070 and would consider additional measures to protect the interests of its members if the original version of the law went into effect.
Players’ association president Michael Weiner has since issued a statement saying the organization will not ask players to refrain from participating in the Midsummer Classic since key portions of the law have been deemed unlawful.
“Our nation continues to wrestle with serious issues regarding immigration, prejudice and the protection of individual liberties,” Weiner said Friday. “Those matters will not be resolved at Chase Field, nor on any baseball diamond; instead they will be addressed in Congress and in statehouses and in courts by those charged to find the right balance among the competing and sincerely held positions brought to the debate.”
Chase Field and Phoenix will still likely see a handful of protests during All-Star game festivities, which start this weekend, and Somos America has asked fans, players and coaches to wear a white ribbon from Friday through Tuesday to show solidarity against the law.
But the game, unlike the ’93 Super Bowl, will go on and, by all indications, most of the fans and all the players will be there.
“It showcases the destination at a time when most people wouldn’t expect to see Arizona on a national stage and it will showcase the fact that we are a welcoming and hospitable place to visit,” said Kristen Jarnagin, spokeswoman for the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association. “I know there’s people wearing ribbons, but honestly I think at the end of the day we were able to keep the game here, we’re excited about that.”
AP sports writer Colin Fly in Milwaukee and Associated Press writers Bob Christie and Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this story.