By now, you’ve probably heard about Arizona’s proposition SB1070 — the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” — which was signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer on April 23, just two weeks after MLB announced that the 2011 All-Star Game would be held in Phoenix, for the first time ever. The law will go into effect in three months. It “requires a reasonable attempt to be made to determine the immigration status” if “reasonable suspicion exists” that the person is an illegal immigrant. Because of the high proportion of Latin and Hispanic players in baseball, and the Diamondbacks are one of the most prominent (and most mobile) of all Arizona corporations, that means that baseball — and the Arizona Diamondbacks — are caught squarely in the middle of all this.
Boycotts and picket lines for Diamondbacks games have already been threatened. There was a picket line at Coors Field yesterday, and there’s a Facebook page calling for a picket and boycott of tonight’s game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Seattle blog HorsesAss.org called for the Mariners to pull out of the Cactus League. Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney came out in favor of a boycott of D-Backs games, and New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica called for next year’s All-Star Game to be moved out of Phoenix. The blog La Nueva Raza called for a complete boycott of all things from Arizona. So has Rep. Raul Grijalva — a Democrat from Arizona, advocating a boycott against the state he represents.
The team feels unfairly squeezed, issuing a statement to the Arizona Republic newspaper: “Although D-backs’ Managing General Partner Ken Kendrick has donated to Republican political candidates in the past, Kendrick personally opposes (Senate) Bill 1070… The D-backs have never supported (Senate) Bill 1070, nor has the team ever taken a political stance or position on any legislation.” It’s hardly a full-throated condemnation, but the team is certainly trying to set itself apart from the bill. Certainly, if any of these boycotts take hold, they could stand to lose a fair amount of cash. The issue of moving the All-Star game is bigger, though. All-Star Weekend is a major revenue driver for a city, as it lasts for days and is the center of the baseball universe for the better part of a week, with no other games taking place.
Many have pointed out that there is Arizona precedent for a sports league to relocate a major event on the basis of a disagreement with state law. In 1991, the NFL moved the 1993 Super Bowl out of Arizona after the governor canceled observance of a holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. That had an immediate effect: the holiday was approved by voters in 1992, and the 1996 Super Bowl took place in Tempe. A similar action by MLB would likely provoke a similarly strong reaction from the Arizona electorate, though a strong reaction is no guarantee of a repeal of the bill.
But is a boycott fair? Is it fair for baseball fans to punish the Arizona Diamondbacks for being based in a state which has passed a law that is unpopular in other states? Is it sensible to assume that refusing to see Diamondbacks games is the best way to change the law? Is it sensible to assume, as Dave Zirin of The Progressive writes, that “a boycott is also an expression of solidarity with Diamondback players such as Juan Gutierrez, Gerardo Parra, and Rodrigo Lopez”?
Whether or not the bill lives or dies will have little to do with whether Robert McCartney or Mike Lupica decide to go see the D-Backs when they’re in town. So it’s purely a decision about your personal morality. I’m not quite sure where I stand. What about you?
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.