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Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin writes about the politics of sports for the Nation Magazine, and is author of Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love

March 7th, 2011 3:30 PM

Say it Loud on Opening Day: Baseball Must Move the All-Star Game from Arizona

First run at thenation.com

At the risk of profound understatement, it’s been a difficult 2011 in the state of Arizona. Jared Loughner’s shooting spree that grievously injured Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed six, including 9-year old Christina Green, was a national horror. The killings also focused global attention on Arizona’s toxic political culture. Gun-toting nativists, white supremacist state senators, anti-immigrant laws like the infamous SB 1070, and Governor Jan Brewer's tall tales about “headless bodies”  on the Arizona/Mexico border turned the state into a national punchline. After Loughner’s rampage, the punchline became a cautionary tale, and everyone from Governor Brewer to Barack Obama called on the political fire-breathers to give it a rest.

Unfortunately, Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce didn’t get the memo. Pearce, a man chummy with those who consider swastikas to be fashion accessories, returned this year with new legislation that would peel the paint off the Statue of Liberty. Pearce has proposed SB 1611, which among other things would force schools to report students who cannot produce documents verifying their US citizenship or legal residence. School adminstrators that refuse would be subject to prosecution. It’s a law that would compel teachers and principals to become de facto INS agents. It’s also a law that would be a brazen challenge to the US Constitution, which protects the right of every child to attend a public school.

Gabriel Chin, a University of Arizona Law professor said, “This is all aiming for Supreme Court test cases by doing something that is over the constitutional line. It’s really alarming and astonishing that they would deliberately violate the Constitution in this way.” Last Friday, there were walkouts at eight Phoenix area high schools, as students joined together to march on the state house and protest Pearce’s bill.

As the primordial ooze of Arizona’s politics comes to a boil yet again, the question must be posed anew to Major League Commissioner Bud Selig: Will the 2011 All-Star Game go ahead as planned in the state of Arizona? Will Selig ignore the latest from Russell Pearce, along with the thousands of petitioners, protesters and players, and reward a state with aspirations of apartheid with the Midsummer Classic?

By last year, Selig offered his position in a statement as bizarre as it was obtuse. Pressured for an answer, he said, “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.” No one is quite sure what this means, but the answer was still clear. Yes, as of last summer, he would be ignoring all concerns and the game would be played as planned in Arizona.

Selig chose to disregard the concerns of his own players, 27.7 percent of whom were born in Latin America, and the MLB Players’ Association. He wouldn’t comment on the fact that the biggest star in the game Albert Pujols, said of the recent Arizona legislation, “I’m opposed to it. How are you going to tell me that, me being Hispanic, if you stop me and I don’t have my ID, you’re going to arrest me? That can’t be.”

He didn’t care that 2010 All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez, Joakim Soria, Jose Valverde and Yvonni Gallardo have said that they wouldn’t play in the 2011 game if it goes ahead in Arizona as planned. He shrugged his shoulders when World Series–winning manager of the Chicago White Sox Ozzie Guillen, swore to uphold an All Star boycott. And Selig showed contempt for the thousands of petitioners, the fans who demonstrated in twenty major league cities last summer, and the former MLB executives all of whom have pleaded with him to “move the game.”

In 2011, since the horrific shootings, not to mention the latest legislation by Pearce, Selig hasn’t even offered us rambling incoherence. He’s been silent.

This has enraged those who built the protests last summer at the park. Enrique Morones, the former VP of Latino and Diversity marketing for the San Diego Padres and a protest organizer to move the game, said to me, “As the temperature rises in Arizona and another 9-year-old girl is killed, Christina Green, we remind Bud Selig that two years earlier a 9-year-old girl was murdered because of racial profiling, Brisenia Flores. She was murdered by Minuteman and Federation of American Immigration Reform activist Shawna Forde. Bud, once again we ask, move the game. How many deaths in Arizona do you need to be convinced that now is not the time or the place to have MLB All Star game in Arizona?

Favianna Rodriguez, co-founder of the online advocacy group Presente.org also spoke to this, saying to me, “The events in Arizona of recent months—the shooting in Tucson, the trial of Shawna Forde for the murder of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and the proposed legislation—are strong evidence for not having the 2011 All-Star Game in the dangerous and bigoted state of Arizona.”

More and more people are saying that this cannot pass. Immigration activists around the country are planning in April to inaugurate the new season with Opening Day protests at parks across the country. I’ve spoken to those planning pickets, banner drops and even more creative ways to welcome the National Pastime with a message to Bud Selig: “Will you or will you not move the damn game?”If he won’t answer the question, then clearly we’re not asking it loudly enough.

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