To Catch a Fire: Diamondback Protests Take Off
This weekend in Chicago. May 3-6 in Houston. May 14-16 in Atlanta. May 17-18 in Florida. May 25-27 in Colorado. May 28-30 in San Francisco. And that’s just May. These are the road game locations for the Arizona Diamondbacks over the next month. These are also places where protests have been called in opposition to Arizona’s racist anti-immigrant SB 1070 law, which has been criticized by everyone from Barack Obama to Karl Rove. The D-backs owner Ken Kendrick is a massive financial supporter of Arizona’s state Republican Party and that makes his team, whether he likes it or not, the SB 1070 Traveling Roadshow.
And make no mistake about it: the idea of protesting the Diamondbacks wherever they play is catching fire. It nationalizes an issue many on the anti-immigrant right would rather see tucked away in the shadows of the Southwest. Yesterday’s protest at Coors Field in Denver, home of the Colorado Rockies, had 50 people rallying as people mad their way inside. Season ticket holder Jim Bullington tried to give his Rockies vs. Diamondback tickets back to the team, but they refused to accept them. Bullington said to me, “Until I hear him say otherwise, I see this racist unconstitutional law as being supported financially by the owner of the D-backs. My friends and I in Denver won’t be going to these games.”
Today’s protest in Chicago, organized over Facebook, will have hundreds of people in attendance. Orlando Sepulveda of the Comité 10 de Marzo will be there, identifying the action as deeply connected to the national struggle for a humane immigration policy. “We pledged to boycott the D-backs because we are committed to defeating SB 1070. We are committed to defeat it because we can't allow racist law to exist, but also because defeating it will build strength and confidence in our movement to win an immigration reform with justice and dignity. Being this a national issue, if SB 1070 remains on the books, we will be in a position of weakness across the country.” One particularly smart element of today’s Chicago protest is that picketers are not asking fans to walk away from the stadium. Considering that most of us buy our tickets in advance anyways, this would be rather silly. Instead they are asking fans to take in signs calling for the repeal of SB 1070 to hold up during the game.
The protest-the-D-Backs strategy is also being backed by grassroots progressives. Los Angeles based Gustavo Arellano, syndicated columnist of “Ask a Mexican” and Pacifica radio host said to me, "Not only are conscious fans protesting retrograde owners who fund reprehensible measures, but they'll remind the general fan that sports owners—far from being the apolitical people the leagues portray them to be—are businessmen who usually use the profits they make off the wallets of unsuspecting fans to fund corrupt politicians and politics. Sure, these protests will intrude on the fan's experience, but that's the point. Sports doesn't exist in a vacuum."
These actions are also getting broader support, which we will see in upcoming rallies at Sun Life Stadium, in Miami, home of the Florida Marlins. Kim Diehl, the Communications Director of SEIU Healthcare Florida, supports the protests because, as she said to me, “Yes, baseball is sacred, but human lives are more sacred. I’ll be protesting the D-Backs because the law that Arizona passed which allows police to approach anyone and ask for their papers is reminiscent of the horrors of slavery and apartheid.”
There are no illusions that these protests will somehow drastically damage Ken Kendrick’s profit margins. The team’s own .500 play will do that on its own. The D-Backs also play in a stadium built with $250 million in tax dollars, so Kendrick won’t be applying for food stamps any time soon. But the protests do hold the potential to keep this issue out of the shadows and when it comes to SB 1070, the light of day is not kind. Bill Fletcher, a columnist for the Black Commentator and a long time union activist - as well as a born-again baseball fan - said to me, "We have to teach a basic lesson to the corporate racist right: their actions will not be ignored. Instead they will be met with a severe and serious response.”
[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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.]