After a wretched start to the 2011 season, the Boston Red Sox are back in the driver’s seat, leading the American League East. Red Sox Nation, in all its obnoxious glory, knows that their meteoric rise has been fueled by the play of new off-season acquisition first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez is having a monster year, leading the AL in batting average, hits, doubles and runs batted in.
The former number one over-all draft pick is a shoe-in to make the 2011 AL All-Star team. This honor is well deserved and I’ve confirmed with the Boston Red Sox and Gonzalez himself that, whether elected by fans or selected, he will in fact be playing at the All-Star Game in Arizona.
That’s very good news for Major League Baseball and many fans. But it’s bad news for immigrant rights activists who have looked to Gonzalez to boycott the game because of Arizona’s horrific “papers please” immigration law SB 1070. Last year, as protests gathered outside 20 Major League ballparks with a focus on moving the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona, Gonzalez became the highest profile player to indicate that he wouldn’t participate if the “midsummer classic” went ahead as planned. He said last May, "It's immoral.
They're violating human rights. In a way, it goes against what this country was built on. This is discrimination. Are they going to pass out a picture saying 'You should look like this and you're fine, but if you don't, do people have the right to question you?' That's profiling."
In a different interview he said, “If they leave it up to the players and the law is still there, I'll probably not play in the All-Star Game. Because it's a discriminating law.”
He now says that he always meant his comments to mean that he would follow the lead of the Major League Baseball Player’s Association on whether or not boycott. Last May, the MLBPA issued a stern statement that read in part, “The Major League Baseball Players Association opposes this law as written. We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly. If the current law goes into effect, the MLBPA will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members.”
From my contact with sources in the union, I can confirm what's now become obvious: that they have no plans to call for any kind of a boycott. Their belief is that since the most controversial aspect of SB 1070 - requiring police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally - has been struck down by the courts, the urgency for action has waned.
It’s certainly welcome news that the courts saw the lunacy of SB 1070 for what it was, but I would argue that the MLBPA and Gonzalez are mistaken for thinking that the worst is behind us. Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer is appealing directly to the Supreme Court for a full reinstatement of the law. Other parts of the legislation such as stiffer prison sentences and preventing municipalities from declaring themselves “sanctuary cities” are unchallenged and now on the books.
Most critically, SB 1070 has spawned even harsher copycat legislation in Alabama and Georgia.
The attacks demand a response and the All-Star Game is a critical place for our voices to be heard. A boycott and protest outside the stadium gates has been called and rightfully so. Baseball depends on Latino talent for its very survival. 27.7% of all players were born in Latin America. They fill the ranks of every All-Star roster and are a near plurality of all minor league players. Commissioner Bud Selig, by financially rewarding the state of Arizona as well as Diamondbacks owner, the right-wing financier Ken Kendrick, is now underwriting bigotry. The way that Bud Selig continues to sponge himself luxuriantly in the spirit and memory of Jackie Robinson while ignoring the injustices of today – something Jackie would have never done – is frankly nauseating. As Enrique Morones, former Vice President of the San Diego Padres said to me, “If Bud Selig was around in the 1940s, he would have dithered and Jackie Robinson never would have gotten his chance.”
Here’s hoping that when Gonzalez takes the field, as the cameras turn toward him, he makes some sort of visible stand for those who are forced to live in the shadows. If he doesn’t, those outside the stadium will just have to shout that much louder.
[Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.]