Thrumming below the surface of your daily sports coverage is a movement that threatens to change the fundamental dynamics between fans and pro sports leagues. This summer, loud and confident demonstrations greet Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks whenever they play on the road. Next week, we are looking at pickets right outside the ballpark in Philadelphia on July 27th and July 29th, and at Citi Field in Queens when they play my New York Mets on July 30th and 31st. Philly and New York will now join - by my count - Denver, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and St. Louis as places where protest has come right to the park.
The demand uniting all of these actions is simple: Major League Commissioner Bud Selig should enact the "best interests of the game" clause in MLB's constitution and move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona in protest of that state's endless flood of anti-immigrant legislation. [See movethegame.org for handy guides on how to protest at the park]. With twenty-eight percent of its players born in Latin America, Major League Baseball has a special obligation to stand up. MLB and Bud Selig, who drape themselves every year in the tradition of Jackie Robinson’s courageous 1947 struggle to desegregate the game, are guilty of the worst kind of hypocrisy for backing a state that is merrily shredding the Bill of Rights and codifying racial profiling. Selig still uses the example of Robinson to argue that baseball is above reproach on questions of civil rights and therefore should not have to move the game.
But if you know the hidden history of how Jackie Robinson eventually came to break baseball's color line, you could choke on the irony. Major League Baseball did not grant integration from on high, like some beneficent father, but was pushed to desegregate from below. Led by Lester "Red" Rodney, sports writer for the Communist Party newspaper, the Daily Worker, young activists petitioned to integrate the major leagues throughout the 1930s. They stood outside Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, Wrigley Field, and Comiskey Park with petitions.
As Lester recounted to me in 2004, "[We] for the most part never encountered any hostility from fans. People would say, ‘Gee, I never thought of that.’ And then they'd say, ‘Yeah, I think if they're good enough then they should have a chance.’ We wound up with at least a million and a half signatures that we delivered straight to the desk of [baseball commissioner] Judge Landis.” In other words, protests at the park are part of a proud tradition proven right by history.
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Lester and his young comrades then took the fight into the trade unions and soon banners that read, "End Jim Crow in Baseball!" were a common sight at labor rallies. Today's battle to move the 2011 All-Star Game has also involved the unions, with SEIU locals and labor federations becoming regular parts of the protests outside the stadiums. The ballplayers of the 1930s noticed the protests and tentatively began to speak out, which only gave the people in the streets more confidence. Today's movement also benefits from the dozens of players who have spoken out, such as superstar Albert Pujols and All-Star Adrian Gonzalez.
The point is that our actions are not without precedent. The history of Major League Baseball shows that they need to be "made to do the right thing." Everyone should come out in Philly and New York to send a very clear message to Bud Selig:
- You cannot cloak yourself in the memory of Jackie Robinson and turn a blind eye to the racism in Arizona.
- You cannot reward Arizona with an All-Star Game in 2011 and put your own players and their familes at risk the moment they take off their uniforms and leave the field.
- You can no longer count on the meek passivity of those of us who have been paying for your stadiums with our tax dollars, and taking out loans just to afford tickets to see a Major League game.
If this sport is going to be worthy of its own history, the 2011 All-Star Game has no business in the state of Arizona