Of all the mainstream forms of entertainment, professional sports is certainly the arena least likely to produce out-spoken ideologues. Its participants entertain and interact through action, rarely getting a chance to speak on anything outside the game, and even then, largely in soft-profile human interest stories.
Athletes are certainly aware of this, and perfunctorily dodge any post- or pre-game questioning on political or social matters, rather than risk giving an honest answer that could tarnish their image and marketability. The higher profile the athlete, and the greater the sum of their endorsement deals, the more likely they are to offer bland, safe answers.
So it was to great surprise that many Major League Baseball players spoke out against SB 1070, when it was signed into law in Arizona over a year ago. Many players called for MLB to relocate the 2011 All-Star Game, a yearly midseason exhibition of the best talent in the league. Chase Field in Phoenix had previously been chosen to host this year’s event, and players from across the spectrum of fame and race, were now threatening to boycott the game, should they be chosen to participate.
Adrian Gonzalez, a native of Tijuana, and a quickly rising star in 2010 as well as Most Valuable Player candidate in 2011, put it perhaps most bluntly: “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 look like this and you’re fine’, but if you don’t, do people have the right to question you? That’s profiling.”
Besides Gonzalez, at least 14 other players said they would boycott the game.
In the year 2011 however, words have softened, and image consultants have been consulted. “I didn’t know a lot about the situation and in a way I was caught off-guard. I answered the question and once everything came off of that, I was like, that’s not where I want to go,” Gonzalez said on July 12, the day of the game. Even the MLB players’ union retracted it’s earlier boycott threats: “We stated that, if SB 1070 as written went into effect, we would consider additional measures to protect the interests of our members. SB 1070 is not in effect and key portions of the law have been judged unlawful by federal courts. Under all the circumstances, we have not asked players to refrain from participating in any All-Star activities.”
What seemed initially like a breakthrough for national awareness of immigrant rights, slowly turned into another reminder of the weighty yoke of status quo. Not only did nary a player boycott the game, but most who had said they would, spent the week leading up to the event deftly deflecting questions about their initial intentions. While it is partially true that “portions of the law have been judged unlawful,” the attitudes it fosters are still ravenously present throughout the southwest, Arizona in particular.
The power of high-profile athletes to put a relatable face on the contentious issue of immigrant rights will not diminish. Hopefully there will be a day soon when players like Adrian Gonzalez will realize their unique position, and do more to affect change in the hearts and minds of fans of our national pastime.______________________________________________________________
Micah Perry is a writer based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @soupydavis.