In what promises to be one of the more contentious mid-term election years in recent memory, immigration reform has pushed itself to the forefront of issues dividing our nation. Not surprisingly, the passion behind the issue also threatens to divide our national pastime.
In a highly unprecedented move, the Major League Baseball Players Association went so far as to publicly criticize the law and call for its repeal. The MLBPA has always been known as a very insulated organization, so its decision to delve into an issue of national significance is noteworthy. What’s more, it also puts pressure on Bud Selig and baseball’s ownership to respond in kind.
All of these players, as well as their families, could be adversely affected, even though their presence in the United States is legal. Each of them must be ready to prove, at any time, his identity and the legality of his being in Arizona to any state or local official with suspicion of his immigration status. This law also may affect players who are U.S. citizens but are suspected by law enforcement of being of foreign descent. – MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner
Amid the uproar over the new law, everyone from sportswriters to Congressman has urged Selig to take action. Some have suggested relocating the 2011 All Star Game, while others have advocated that baseball cease holding spring training in the state.
Obviously, some of these impassioned advocacies are not only impractical, but likely illegal. With half of the league training in Arizona, it would be logistically impossible to move 15 teams to another location, even with a year to plan. More importantly, the contractual agreements between the teams and Arizona municipalities, many of which have recently built brand new complexes with tax payer money, would put MLB on thin legal ice if they tried to pull out of the state.
MLB could appease the outspoken by revoking Arizona’s right to host the All Star Game, or making some other symbolic gesture (as the NFL did by refusing to award a Super Bowl to Arizona until it approved the Martin Luther King holiday). Doing so, however, could elicit an unfavorable response from a large segment of the sport’s fan base. In other words, Selig is damned one way or the other. What’s more, entering the fray on this issue could create a slippery slope that forces the league into taking a stand on many other hot button issues. Otherwise, its silence would take on meaning as a result of the precedent established by its response to this issue.
Instead of worrying about the politics of the issue, MLB should be more concerned about protecting its players from any potential negative ramifications of the law. It should also continue to encourage and develop participation by foreign born players, as well as advocate for laws that facilitate such growth. Maybe I am being naïve, but the growing presence of foreign born players in baseball will do more to reflect a positive light on immigration than symbolic boycotts. After all, that’s exactly what happened before the Civil Rights era took hold. Jackie Robinson’s ascension to the major leagues in 1947, well before other segments of the country embraced integration, was much more powerful than political gestures could ever have been.
Now they’re going to go after everybody, not just the people behind the wall. Now they’re going to come out on the street. What if you’re walking on the street with your family and kids? They’re going to go after you. – Baltimore Orioles short stop Cesar Izturis, speaking to AP
With nearly 30% of major league baseball players being foreign born, it is only natural that the sport would take an interest in any law pertaining to immigration. Individual coaches and players have every right to be vocal about issues that are important to them. There is nothing wrong with Ozzie Guillen or Adrian Gonzalez, for example, discussing a possible boycott of the 2011 All Star Game. Also, the fears of players like Cesar Izturis need to be taken seriously and addressed by each team on an individual basis. However, that doesn’t mean MLB should take one side of a divisive issue. As Indians coach Sandy Alomar Jr. told AP, “Let the politicians stay in politics and the baseball players play baseball.”
Hopefully, Bud Selig is listening to that advice.