Georgia Strikes Out

Last year, there were protests outside twenty different Major League ballparks to oppose the staging of the All-Star Game this summer in Arizona.

In addition to the action outside the park, more than two dozen players, including Albert Pujols and Michael Young, voiced their displeasure with Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws.

At least four All-Stars from last year, including Adrian Gonzalez of the Boston Red Sox and the Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo, said they would boycott the game if it goes ahead in Arizona as planned.

You can bet there will be large protests outside the stadium during the Midsummer Classic.

Now the question needs to be raised about whether we should be protesting the Atlanta Braves, too. The Georgia legislature has passed laws authorizing state and local police to have the powers of federal law enforcement. They can arrest people for the crime of not having their papers on request. Part of the legislation also subjects people to a maximum of fifteen years behind bars for using a false ID for the purposes of getting a job.

This closely mirrors Arizona’s infamous—and unconstitutional—“papers please” law, S.B. 1070. The crucial carefully crafted difference is that in Georgia there must be some sort of “probable cause” before asking for citizenship papers.

Already the American Civil Liberties Union is considering bringing a suit forward. Already civil rights hero John Lewis has spoken out forcefully against the legislation. “This is a recipe for discrimination,” he said. “We’ve come too far to return to the dark past.”

These are ugly laws, aimed at scapegoating the most vulnerable members of our society to keep us divided and weak amidst economic crisis.

What does pro baseball possibly have to do with this? The Major Leagues currently rest on a foundation of Latino talent: 27 percent of major league players were born in Latin America as well as almost 50 percent of minor leaguers. There are more Dominicans in the minor leagues than African Americans. In addition, the Latino fan base in Major League Baseball is growing more and more significant every year. It’s a slap in the face to their players and fans to say nothing.

Major League Baseball takes great pains to celebrate the civil rights legacies of Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente. But as we see in Georgia and Arizona, civil rights is not just an issue for the history books. As Enrique Morones, former vice president with the San Diego Padres, said to me, “You ask most people about the DREAM Act, they have no idea what it is. They don’t know about S.B. 1070, they don’t care. But baseball? The All-Star Game? They see that. It gets people’s attention. People will go, ‘What? I didn’t know they want to do that to Adrian Gonzalez or to Albert Pujols.’ And they’ll start looking at it in a little bit of a different way.”

Which gets back to Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente—and John Carlos, for that matter, who raised his gloved fist at the 1968 Olympics. Their brave actions brought awareness to a national audience that didn’t want to be aware, that didn’t want to hear about it, that wanted to turn a blind eye.

That’s why protesting against Arizona’s hosting of the All-Star Game is so important, and why bringing pressure on the Atlanta Braves is, too.

Baseball’s social responsibility didn’t end in the civil rights era. Despite Bud Selig’s attitude, baseball has a social responsibility today.

As Morones said to me, “If Selig had been commissioner when Jackie Robinson was in baseball, we never would have heard of Jackie Robinson.”

Dave Zirin is the author of several books on sports and has just released a film titled, “Not Just a Game: Power, Politics & American Sports.”