In the days following the passage of the racist Arizona anti-immigrant bill, SB 1070, Major League Baseball’s Latino players were conspicuous in their silence. After all, Arizona is the home of MLB’s Diamondbacks as well as the Spring Training locale for more than a few teams. In addition, the Major League All Star game is due to be played in Arizona in 2011. And on top of that, the Diamonbacks, on an ill-timed road trip, are drawing protestors to every stadium site where they play. Considering that 27.7% of players are Latino, the question lingered: would anyone speak out, or are Latino players, as all-star Gary Sheffield infamously remarked in 2007, recruited precisely because they can be "controlled"? Well, fear not, the floodgates are starting to open. On Friday, it was reported that Kansas City Royals DH Jose Guillen said, “I’ve never seen anything like that in the United States, and Arizona is part of the United States. I hope police aren’t going to stop every dark-skinned person. It’s kind of like, wow, what’s going on….It’s just crazy we’re even talking about this…If you don’t have your passport, what does that mean? You’re going to jail? I don’t know what to say to that.”
Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez who holds dual citizenship in the United States and Mexico said to Chris Jenkins of the San Diego Union-Tribune, “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.”
Venezuelan-born San Diego catcher Yorvit Torrealba agreed with his Gonzalez, saying, “This is racist stuff. It’s not fair for a young guy who comes here from South America, and just because he has a strong accent, he has to prove on the spot if he’s illegal or not. I mean, I understand the need for security and the safety to people here, the question of legal and illegal. I get that. But I don’t see this being right. Why do I want to go play in a place where every time I go to a restaurant and they don’t understand what I’m trying to order, they’re going to ask me for ID first? That’s bull. I come from a crazy country.. Now Arizona seems a little bit more crazy.”
Their teammate Scott Hairston said, “I’m half-Mexican I definitely disagree with it, can’t really see anything positive about it, and I just hope it doesn’t lead to a lot of chaos. It just wasn’t necessary to pass a bill like that.
White sox manager Ozzie Guillen, also Venezuelan, said he would boycott the 2011 All Star game “as a Latin American” if it went ahead in Phoenix as planned. He also said, “The immigration [service] has to be careful about how they treat people…..I want to see this country two days without [immigrants] to see how good we’re doing. . . .
But the biggest news is that the union, the Major League Baseball Players Association, is now speaking out. Executive director Michael Weiner issued the below statement:
“The recent passage by Arizona of a new immigration law could have a negative impact on hundreds of major league players who are citizens of countries other than the United States. These international players are very much a part of our national pastime and are important members of our Association. Their contributions to our sport have been invaluable, and their exploits have been witnessed, enjoyed and applauded by millions of Americans. All of them, as well as the clubs for whom they play, have gone to great lengths to ensure full compliance with federal immigration law.
“The impact of the bill signed into law in Arizona last Friday is not limited to the players on one team. The international players on the [Arizona] Diamondbacks work and, with their families, reside in Arizona from April through September or October. In addition, during the season, hundreds of international players on opposing major league teams travel to Arizona to play the Diamondbacks. And, the spring training homes of half of the 30 major league teams are now in Arizona. 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 US citizens but are suspected by law enforcement of being of foreign descent. 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.”
Anyone who straps on the snark and dismisses either the above statements or the protests outside the park, are oblivious to the way sports have historically been an electric political platform for social justice. The actions of athletes can humanize an issue and reach untold numbers who skip the front page and go directly to sports. There are rare historical moments when protest can shape athletes and athletes can in turn shape the confidence, size, and scope of protest. This could very well be one of those moments.
[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].]