St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has chosen to publicly back Arizona’s odious, anti-constitutional, anti-immigrant Senate Bill 1070. Call me paranoid. Call me delusional. But it doesn’t take a tinfoil hat to intuit that there are larger forces at work shaping Major League Baseball’s political response to Arizona’s anti-immigrant attacks.
When SB 1070 was signed by the state’s interim Governor Jan Brewer, baseball players were in an uproar. In a sport where half the league holds Spring Training in Arizona and 27% of players are Latin American immigrants, the reaction was bracing and immediate. 15 players lashed out against SB 1070 before the ink was even dry on Brewer’s signature. The Major League Baseball Players Association also issued a dramatic statement against the bill. Both Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said they would boycott the 2011 All Star game if it was held in Phoenix as planned. And then…silence. It’s been like a faucet that was twisted violently shut. Players now just speak off the record with curt statements like, "Who would like it?" Others who spoke out earlier like the D-backs own Augie Ojeda, now just mumble, "We're here to play baseball."
And into the vacuum steps Tony La Russa, loud and proud in front of the cameras saying, "I'm actually a supporter of what Arizona is doing. If the national government doesn't fix your problem, you've got a problem. You've got to fix it yourself. That's just part of the American way." He then praised the handful of Tea Partiers who attended Wednesday's Cardinals/Diamondbacks game with banners and signs in support of SB 1070.
No comment from Cardinal stars Albert Pujols or Yadier Molina about whether getting stopped without just cause is “just part of the American way.”
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As players are silenced while managers come forward to defend Bud Selig’s conservative status quo, the lessons should be clear. Players spoke out heroically when the law was past, but they will not magically build a real grass roots movement against SB 1070. That happens off the field. We need to keep pushing to pressure Commissioner Bud Selig to move next year’s All Star game and La Russa may have unwittingly given us a lead on just how to do it. After praising the Tea Partiers’ in-park demonstration, he said, "Anybody, I mean if you had the opposite view and you wanted to come out and have your signs, I mean this is great, you're going to have 40 thousand people here to see it perfect. I don't care.”
He’s right. Everywhere the Diamondbacks play, we should do more than just demonstrate outside the stadium. We should get inside with our banners and signs and let the silenced players know that they have support in the stands. Given the number of stadiums that offer $1 seats in the high bleachers come game-time, we should get in there and be heard.
We also need to take this struggle right-straight-smack to Commissioner Bud Selig himself. That’s why I want to wholeheartedly endorse a protest called for July 8th at Bud Selig’s in New York City office. The demo has been endorsed by an endless list of organizations including the t he New York Immigration Coalition New York Civil Liberties Union, and La Union de la Comunidad Latina. One function of these protests is that it can provide political oxygen for players who are profoundly upset about SB 1070, upset about having to be issued special I.D. cards by Major League Baseball in case they are stopped for Breathing While Latino, but see no benefit to speaking out.
It’s time for, Bud Selig and the players themselves to learn the wisdom of the great Roberto Clemente who once said, “They say, ‘Roberto, you better keep your mouth shut because they will ship you back.’ [But] this is something that from the first day, I said to myself: ‘I am in the minority group. I am from the poor people. I represent the poor people. I represent the common people of America. So I am going to be treated like a human being. I don’t want to be treated like a Puerto Rican, or a black, or nothing like that. I want to be treated like any person that comes for a job.’”
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It starts with moving the 2011 All-Star Game. The Midsummer Classic of the National Pastime has no business being played in a police state….. no matter what Tony LaRussa thinks.
[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing [email protected]. Contact him at [email protected].]