Opponents of Arizona's new immigration law have stepped up the pressure on Commissioner Bud Selig to pull next year's All-Star game out of Phoenix, coinciding with preparations for Major League Baseball's annual game Tuesday in Anaheim, Calif.
A coalition of human rights groups, clergy, immigrant advocates MoveOn.org and labor unions called Move the Game presented Selig with a 100,000-signature petition today, urging him to steer clear of Arizona.
"We want to use the Arizona spotlight for the 2011 All-Star Game to highlight the great shame that Arizona brings on itself and on the entire country," said Roberto Lovato, one of Move the Game's organizers and co-founder of Presente.org, a group seeking the political empowerment of Latinos.
There are "grave concerns about Arizona's racist laws" from fans and players who want to attend the 2011 game, Lovato said. The law gives police broad powers to detain anybody they suspect is in the country illegally, which, critics have said, will lead to racial profiling and the harassment of Hispanics.
Selig has refused to say whether the league will move next summer's game. Indeed, he has said very little about the issue except telling reporters in May that Major League Baseball has a long record of minority hiring and played a key role in civil rights movement.
"We've done well. And we'll continue to do well," Selig said after an owners meeting May 13. "And I'm proud of what we've done socially, and I'll continue to be proud of it. That's the issue, and that's the answer."
Bud Selig, the All-Star Game and Arizona
For those behind the boycott, Selig's comments aren't enough.
"That's like saying that the league will be diverse in the Jim Crow era," Lovato said.
The Players Association has come out against the law.
The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit last week challenging the law, which takes effect July 29. In the suit, the Obama administration charges that immigration is under the purview of the federal government and that Arizona has overstepped its bounds.
Rep. Jose E. Serrano, D-N.Y.. was one of the first people to publicly call for a boycott of the game. The Bronx congressman told ABC News at the time that with so many Latino ballplayers -- in the major and minor leagues -- baseball "should make a statement that it will not hold its All-Star Game in a state that discriminates against" such a high percentage of its own people.
"I think that when people, states, localities make decisions this monumental, they should know the full consequence of that decision," he said.
The 2009 All-Star Game generated an estimated $60 million for St. Louis, according to the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association. New York's economy generated an estimated $150 million the year before, according to New York City's Economic Development Corp.
Arizona is also the spring training home of 15 Major League Baseball teams, including the Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners and the Kansas City Royals.
Move the Game has been holding rallies across the country at away games of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Lovato is already talking about next season's spring training schedule.
The Arizona boycott goes beyond baseball. There was a push back in April for people to cancel vacations in the state and many in the already-struggling tourism industry expressed concern as big conferences started to pull out of Arizona.
Past Arizona Sports Boycotts
This is not the first time Arizona has faced the loss of a major sporting event over its racial policies.
When Arizona stopped recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1987, various groups organized boycotts of the state. Pressure eventually fell on the NFL, which in 1991 pulled the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix. Voters approved the holiday in 1992 and Tempe, Ariz., was awarded the 1996 Super Bowl.
The power of that event is not lost on today's leaders.
Serrano called the Super Bowl decision "monumental" in getting the state to reverse its position.
"The NFL and the players and the union were smart enough and committed enough to know that this was important," he said.
The Rev. Warren H. Stewart Sr., who was one of the leaders behind the Super Bowl protests, said, "It was successful because there was such a national and international outrage to the offense to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King."
Supporters of the holiday had been trying to engage the business community but heard nothing back at first, Stewart said.
"It wasn't until the NFL said, "If you all don't get this straight, we're not coming,'" he said. "Before that time, none of them would return our calls."
What advice does Stewart have for today's organizers?
Hit them where it hurts, he said, in the wallet.
"The business people did not get involved for the moral reason of the holiday," Stewart said. "They only got involved after they started to lose money. They make very few moral decisions. Their decisions are made with dollars and cents."
The beauty about sports is that it can get people with different agendas to work toward the same goal.
"At first, all they wanted was the Super Bowl," Stewart said of the business leaders. "It really wasn't about Martin Luther King. He was the means to the end. For us, he was the end and the boycott was the means. Totally opposite."
"We looked at the Super Bowl in '93 as a convention, the world's largest convention," added Art Mobley, a longtime broadcaster in Phoenix who helped organize the fight.
Major League Baseball's pulling out of Arizona wouldn't necessarily be enough to change the law, Stewart said. He said he doubts that Gov. Jan Brewer or the Republican-controlled legislature will rescind it easily.
"She would not do it before the election because she's become a national figure," Stewart said of the governor. "This is bringing up the race issue like never before."
Stewart said the King holiday was about symbolism. Today's fight is all about substance and deserves an equally strong, if not stronger, campaign, he said.
"This is a substantive, human rights issue," he said. "It deals with justice, it deals with family, it deals with poverty, it deals with education, it deals with the economy."