I was born in India, but grew up in the Bronx and am about as ferocious a Yankees fan as you'll find (please do keep reading even if you aren't!). While I love the game for its own sake, I also appreciate the history of the role of sports in fostering social change. The sports that capture our young minds and imaginations, when the moment is right, can be a powerful vehicle to raise collective conscience of the nation and be the impetus for significant social change.
The Jackie Robinson story is a vital part of the black freedom struggle in America. The integration of baseball, and the heroism and fight it entailed, was a pivotal moment in shifting the consciousness of our nation. Our national pastime again can play a pivotal role in advancing social justice. Next year, Major League Baseball is scheduled to play its All-Star Game in Arizona, a state that the Center for Community Change, the National Council of La Raza, and hundreds of other national organizations, churches, states, cities and counties across America are currently boycotting in protest of the state's wave of anti-immigrant and anti-minority legislation. They recently passed SB 1070, a law that requires a police officer to determine a person's immigration status if they are stopped, detained or arrested and there is "reasonable suspicion" they are in the country illegally. SB 1070 invites the racial profiling of people of color, violates the First Amendment and interferes with federal authority to enforce immigration law. The ACLU, MALDEF, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), among others, are suing to block implementation of the law. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said the Department of Justice would also file suit.
Arizona not only deserves to lose the All Star Game because of SB 1070, but because a series of racist actions leaves no doubt about the how Republicans leaders in the state view people of color. Teachers with accents can no longer teach English. In Arizona children are no longer allowed to learn about their heritage, unless they are Anglo. And now the legislative sponsors of SB 1070 are considering introducing a bill that would change the Constitution and strip birthright citizenship from babies born to non-citizen parents. That's right: Arizona would not only have you show your papers to the police, but to the doctor delivering your baby.
The state has already lost millions of dollars as a result of the boycott, and some Latinos uncomfortable with the state's hostility toward them have begun to leave the state. But Gov. Jan Brewer and state Sen. Russell Pearce, the main forces behind Arizona's odious moves, have remained unbowed in their whitewashing of the state.
What does baseball have to do with this? Fifteen teams have spring training facilities in the state. When national organizations and major cities like Los Angeles, Austin and Seattle are busy canceling business with the state, a decision by MLB to do nothing would be nothing short of an endorsement of the race-baiting antics by the Republicans who control the state.
It's time MLB makes a stand for justice just like the NFL did when Arizona refused to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a holiday. The NFL denied the state the Super Bowl, and only then did the state fall in line with the rest of the country. Taking the All-Star Game away from Arizona is a drastic step, but it is what's required. By moving the game, MLB would show the world it does not endorse intolerance and will stand up against racism and injustice. Baseball has an iconic place in the American imagination, and a decision to move the game could alter the course of this struggle.
Pearce recently told NPR that he feels uncomfortable with Mexicans' and Central Americans' "way of doing business." He adds that "it's not that they're Hispanic, it's because the culture is different." But he insists he's not racist.
Imagine how state Sen. Pearce will feel the day of the 2011 All-Star Game. More than a quarter of all MLB players are Latinos, and more than 28 percent are from other countries, other cultures. Really, it is Pearce's worst nightmare. Even more importantly, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig ought to try to imagine how the players will feel. The Major League Baseball Player's Association was among the first to condemn the law precisely because of the impact it could have not only on the MLB players, but the players in the Arizona Rookie League, more than 40 percent of whom hail from Spanish speaking countries. These teenage players, by the way, do not carry their passports with them. The teams keep them locked up in a safe.
Some players have already said that if the game is in Arizona, they may not play. San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, a two-time All-Star, said, ""In a way, it goes against what this country was built on. This is discrimination. Are they going to pass out a picture saying 'You should look like this and you're fine, but if you don't, do people have the right to question you?' That's profiling."
Sen. Bob Menendez has asked the Major League Baseball Player's Association to boycott the game, unless the law is repealed or the game is moved. In his statement, Menendez cited concern for the Latino and foreign born players. "These players come to the United States legally and should not be subjected to the humiliation and harassment that SB1070 would inflict."
All over the country, activists have shown their support for moving the game by protesting baseball games, mainly the Arizona Diamondbacks, and will continue to do so. This Friday, activists and baseball fans will be at Nationals Park in Washington when the Nationals play the Chicago White Sox, President Obama's home team. The message is clear: Arizona doesn't deserve to host the 2011 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. It's time MLB says it won't endorse intolerance and won't reward racism. It's time our national pastime stands up for American values. It's time to move the game. Maybe to Yankee Stadium!
Learn more about the work we're doing in Arizona and download our free Arizona protest song from Sweet Honey In The Rock, Are We A Nation? at communitychange.org/areweanation.
Follow Deepak Bhargava on Twitter: www.twitter.com/changenation