Baseball Union and Players Speak Out Against SB1070

Akito Yoshikane

Leon Jose Bicchieri (C) leads immigrant rights supporters during a rally outside Wrigley Field before the start of the Cubs' game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 29 in Chicago, Ill.

27 percent of MLB players are Latino; half of league’s teams hold spring training in Arizona

As immigrants and workers across the country gathered over the weekend to speak out against Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, the latest blowback from the legislation has extended into the sports world.

Arizona is home to several sports teams and events, and many leagues now fear their employees may get entangled in the mess created by Senate Bill 1070, passed last month. Suddenly, many of the Latino and foreign-born players have found themselves at the confluence of the immigrant and workers’ rights issues shared by the millions who protested the bill on May Day.

Arizona is no stranger to controversy in the sports world. In 1992, the NFL decided not to hold the Super Bowl in Phoenix as planned after the state refused to acknowledge Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday.

This time, baseball has been at the forefront of the issue, with many players speaking out against the law, which allows authorities to detain and question anyone they suspect is undocumented. Critics say it essentially legalizes racial profiling of Hispanics.

The legislation is particularly poignant issue for America’s pastime, where approximately 30 percent of the players are Latino, and 27 percent of players in the MLB are foreign-born players that come from countries including the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Cuba.

While the league has remained mum so far, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) issued a statement opposing Senate Bill 1070. We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly.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,” said Michael Weiner, the union chief.

Baseball has a large stake in Arizona. Half of the 30 teams hold spring training games there, which is a huge cash cow for the state. The 2011 All Star Game will also be Phoenix, but calls for a boycott have been growing. The Arizona Diamondbacks have drawn protesters during away games and one of the team’s owners, Ken Kendrick, has drawn furor for contributing money to Republicans and politicians who engineered the bill, although he has expressed opposition to the law.

While the league mulls a belated response, players have started to speak out in opposition, including Ozzie Guillen, the manager for the Chicago White Sox. Guillen frankly expressed his opposition to the bill and highlighted the struggles immigrant laborers face in the United States.

We’re abused,” he told the New York Times. They’re cheaper, or they can’t say no. They are underpaid and they are still working.”

Indeed, Guillen highlights the labor and immigration struggles, an issue not far from the hundreds of up-and-coming players in baseball’s minor league system that share the same hurdles.

Baseball has invested heavily in Dominican Republic, making low-cost investments in the country to develop players who are drawn to the sport as a way out of poverty. The Council on Hempispheric Affairs critiques the program as a funnel for providing cheap labor:

Globalization and the incredibly magnetic and financial appeal of American baseball have created direct links between the Dominican Republic’s cheap labor market of brilliant and talented teenage Dominican baseball players and Major League teams. These links mimic the more prosaic forms of exploitation when it comes to outside producers taking advantage of the cheap labor upon which the island’s sugar and textile industries are based.

The immigration and labor issues facing the leagues come just weeks after Major League Baseball pledged a day to honor Jackie Robinson for breaking the color barrier. While baseball commemorated the historic milestone, a new Civil Rights issue has emerged. With the latest polls citing that a slim majority are actually in favor of the plan, baseball has a chance to harness their global appeal and take a stand against the bill.

So far other sports leagues are opposing the measure. The World Boxing Council unanimously agreed to prohibit their Mexican players to hold bouts in Arizona. Glendale, Ariz., is one of 18 cities in the U.S. bid for future World Cup events, but could be dropped in favor of other areas. And in basketball, the Phoenix Suns will be changing their uniform to the Los Suns” for Game 2 of Wednesday’s Western Conference Semi-finals as a show of solidarity.

Will baseball follow suit?

Akito Yoshikane is a freelance writer based in Chicago.
Brandon Johnson
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