On Tuesday night, millions of Latino baseball fans will watch with pride as players with names like Gonzalez, Ortiz, and Reyes take the field at the 82nd Annual All-Star Game. But as the camera pans across Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona, it will also be a painful reminder that when he had the chance, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig failed to stand up for his Latino players, coaches, and fans by not speaking out against Arizona's war on the Hispanic community.
It's not as if Selig didn't know about the controversy. Last year, when Arizona enacted SB 1070, a discriminatory racial profiling law, the outrage was swift and overwhelming. A coalition of civil rights organizations called both for a tourism boycott of the state and for baseball to move the All-Star Game. Players like Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista both said the law concerned them. Gonzalez told The San Diego Union-Tribune, "It's immoral. They're violating human rights. In a way, it goes against what this country was built on. This is discrimination." In addition, the MLB Players Association issued a strong statement denouncing Arizona's legislation.
The public responded: Dozens of civil rights, faith, and business organizations joined the call to boycott, costing the state an estimated $752 million in lost convention and tourism revenue. A group of 60 Arizona CEOs signed a letter opposing the state legislature's harmful approach to immigration. Basketball's Phoenix Suns supported the Latino community by wearing "Los Suns" jerseys on Cinco de Mayo, a move endorsed by the NBA Commissioner and NBA players union. Yet from baseball's top official there has been only a deafening silence.
While it is true that SB 1070 is currently tied up in the courts, it is also true that Arizona's assault on its two million Latino residents continues unabated. The state is in dire economic straits, but Governor Jan Brewer vowed to fight SB 1070 all the way to the Supreme Court, spending money that Arizona doesn't have to save a piece of legislation that does nothing to solve the immigration crisis.
Nearly one-third of baseball's players are Latino. Without them, no team can compete in the major or minor leagues. Millions of Hispanic fans buy tickets and spend millions of dollars each year at the ballpark, and they are all at risk of harassment and abuse in Arizona simply because of the way they look or sound. The solution for Selig should be as simple as two plus two: a place inhospitable to Latinos is a place inhospitable to baseball.
It's not too late. Selig can still use one of baseball's most high-profile events to denounce what is going on in Arizona or wear a white ribbon in support of the thoughtful dialogue being organized locally by the Unite AZ coalition. The choice is his, but he should also know that the Hispanic community has the choice to stop supporting a sport that will not stand with us.