WASHINGTON - Major League Baseball is preparing to host its All-Star game Tuesday, and roughly one-third of the players who will be in Anaheim are African-American and Latino. Hispanic and African-American players typically make up a third of all those playing major-league ball, with hundreds more in the minors. Given the diversity of today's game, it is especially frustrating that baseball Commissioner Bud Selig remains silent about the nightmare next year's All-Star game could pose for millions of Americans.
Major League Baseball is scheduled to play its 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix, where discrimination and racial profiling will effectively be sanctioned by SB1070, Arizona's controversial new immigration law. Unless the league acts, next year our favorite all-stars could enter a hostile environment, and the families, friends and fans of a third of the players could be treated as second-class citizens because of their skin color or the way they speak.
This law isn't about solving the immigration issue; it's about scapegoating, an established practice in Arizona. For years, law enforcement agencies have criticized the Maricopa County sheriff's office for not serving felony arrest warrants in favor of conducting "saturation" sweeps in which hundreds of Latinos have been indiscriminately arrested in order to find undocumented immigrants. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has stated that "citizens are being stopped because they are brown," and in a letter to the Justice Department he asked for a federal investigation into Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio based on his "pattern and practice of conduct that includes discriminatory harassment, improper stops, searches, and arrests." And this was before SB1070 became law.
What is happening in Arizona is a regression from the freedoms we hold dear and a violation of our civil rights and fundamental values. We are not asking Selig to weigh in on immigration policy; we are asking him to take a stand against bigotry and intolerance. Despite being petitioned by numerous members of Congress and civil rights, labor and social justice groups, Selig has not adequately addressed the issue.
Thanks to the clause in the league constitution that directs the commissioner to act in the "best interests of Major League Baseball," Selig has enormous latitude in taking steps to preserve the integrity of the game. He should recall key moments from our shared history: It was in the best interests of baseball that led MLB in 1947 to defy widespread bigotry and the institutionalized racism of Jim Crow laws and sign Jackie Robinson, finally integrating the game.
Surely the "best interests of baseball" include protecting players and millions of fans of color, not allowing MLB to be perceived as condoning blatant discrimination and injustice, and taking a stand for fairness, equality and other values that Americans and baseball hold dear. Selig should stand up for these players, these fans and these values.
Such a move would not be unprecedented. The NCAA does not allow post-season events, such as the Final Four, to occur in states that fly the Confederate flag. Years ago the NFL stood up to Arizona over its refusal to recognize the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday and moved the 1993 Super Bowl. Those sports institutions defended their players and fans, even though there was no direct threat to their safety. The Arizona law, however, is a direct threat, and Selig ought to take action.
If MLB wants to maintain the right to call baseball America's favorite pastime, and preserve the legacy of Jackie Robinson, the All-Star game should not go to Phoenix next year. Commissioner, for the sake of baseball players and millions of fans, move the game.
Wade Henderson is president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Janet Murguia is president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza, the largest U.S. Latino civil rights and advocacy organization.
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