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Is Senate Bill 1070 a Racist Piece of Legislation? Should Athletes and Politicians Take a Stand?

07/27/2010 02:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Let's get right to the point. The Arizona immigration law is a racist piece of legislation. Senate Bill 1070 is a legal measure that's a reflection of the often blatant racism that's historically existed in this country.

Will athletes, particularly African-American, ever get a collective spine?

Why won't they speak out?

They've been told consistently sports and politics don't mix. True to form the athletes are largely silent fearing the wrath of their affluent owners and corporate sponsors. Politicians ignore racism unless incidents like the Tea Party former leader Mark Williams makes racial insensitive statements.

Even President Barack Obama last month urged athletes to utilize their platforms to denounce social inequities. Too much is given, much is expected. President Obama should also take heed of the message he levied towards the athletes. He's spoken out against the Senate Bill 1070, but has largely ignored the racism in society that's being allowed to contaminate this country.

Sorry to let the facts get in the way of a good story but politics and sports have long gone hand-in-hand. Just examine history.

Racist legislation historically has been an instrumental tool to regulate and control the oppressed. In America it began with the rise of American slavery. Once slaves were no longer bound to the jurisdiction of southern plantations they faced white hate-groups and Black Code laws in the 1860's. Groups like the White Citizens Council and the KKK were instrumental in keeping former slaves in a state of fear in the mainstream.

Then the "separate but equal" society evolved by way of legislation like Jim Crow and Plessy vs. Ferguson. Systemic racism in the criminal justice system ensured social division along racial lines would exist well into the future.

American sport wasn't spared either. Without question sport is a mirror-image of society. With respect to the latter all one has to do is study the legacy of boxing icon Jack Johnson.

Johnson was a boisterous, well-dressed African-American who was heavyweight champion of the world from 1908-1915. He taunted his white opponents, married white women, and did it all with a smile. Johnson was considered "uppity" and white America couldn't stomach Johnson beating white men and bedding their women.

One must understand the societal conditions which persisted during Johnson's time. Lynchings were rampant. African-Americans were second-class beings who attempting to get acclimated in racist society.

The white establishment used legislation to finally bring down Johnson by way of the Mann Act. The judicial system manufactured bogus legislation to bring Johnson down where he was forced into exile and eventually served time in prison.

Legislation played a key role in curtailing the dominance of African-American jockeys. Once upon a time African-Americans dominated the Kentucky Derby. From 1875 until 1921 African-American jockeys won nearly half of the races. Whites, furious at the success of the African-American riders, formed the Jockey Club which was utilized to halt their dominance. It stated that all riders had to be licensed and were free to grant them to whoever they pleased.

Guess what group didn't get licenses?

Move forward to Muhammad Ali: Ali wasn't afraid to speak out as he refused military induction in 1967. He was within his rights as a citizen of the United States to not enlist to fight a war he deemed wrong. But the government changed his induction status to facilitate the need to bring Ali to his knees.

Ali was stripped of his heavyweight championship, his passport was taken and he wasn't able to box for 42-months.

Unlike today's athletes he didn't keep his mouth shut as he stayed the course.

For all those who feel strongly against this racist measure show it by spending your dollars elsewhere. Arizona has four major professional sports franchises. The organizations need to get involved here. If they refuse, fans can get their attention by not attending games.

The players are not exempt either. The media is gun-shy to ask athletes what they think about controversial topics. Professional athletes have the ear of the world, particularly the marquee athletes. They need to speak out and be heard without fear of repercussions. It's too many people in society and sport who have risked their livelihoods in order for the athletes to enjoy the money and fame they currently have: the least they can do is speak-out on relevant issues. The same holds true for politicians.

Next, public pressure needs to continue to be applied. Boycotts are a strategy to induce attention but not a remedy for lasting change. Al Sharpton leading a march in Phoenix won't do anything. The legal system needs to change. Citizens need to hold the government accountable to create legislation that's fair. Monumental effort yes, but that's the way it must be done in order to promote real change.

Major League Baseball needs to get in involved especially because of the legacy of Jackie Robinson. Major League Baseball thinks it does it civic duty by celebrating Jackie Robinson's legacy by having players wearing his number 42. Instead of the latter the sports world and athletes should be studying what Robinson went through to see the connection between what he endured and what's transpiring in Arizona is similar in some ways.

Isn't Robinson's legacy the consummate example of sports and politics mixing?

Furthermore, the mainstream media cannot give Senate Bill 1070 true justice because the media structure is lily-white. Facts indicate 94 and 88 percent of all Sports Editors and Columnists respectively are white. Similar percentages hold true with respect to political media writers. Without diversity the depth of coverage will continue to be lacking.

Too truly change things in Arizona simply strengthen the border control. But don't use remnants of the historically racist judicial and legal system to heighten the level of racism that already exists. Police officers will enjoy unprecedented power to abuse their power and have it be backed up with legislation. In essence, all Arizona has done is create a larger police state for unnecessary brutality to take place for immigrants and other oppressed groups.

In closing, study the historical development of America and the African-American experience to see what's happening in Arizona is a microcosm of what African-Americans have faced historically in America.

Citizens, activists, legislators, writers and the athletes need to speak out because at the end of the day we are all connected.