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Georgia Strikes Out on Civil Rights

Molly Lauterback,
Immigrants' Rights Project
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May 25, 2011

I love baseball. I love baseball so much that I learned to keep score when I was 10 and cried when I learned that David Wells had been traded from the Yankees. I grew up on baseball, and I believed in what it stood for. It is a unifying and uniquely American sport that is full of patriotism and nostalgia. It is a sport that is also so dedicated to equal opportunity that it held the fourth annual Civil Rights Game on Sunday, May 15, in Atlanta.

Baseball, like our country, relies on diversity. From the day Jackie Robinson stepped onto the field in 1947 to today, baseball has embraced integration as a practice. Most current team’s lineups include multiple races and people from places like Japan and Venezuela. Discrimination would only eliminate talent.

Celebrating this commitment to diversity, Major League Baseball (MLB) honored hall of famers Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks, actor Morgan Freeman, and musician Carlos Santana Sunday afternoon. Everyone was feeling festive — and then Carlos Santana, got up on the stage.

With all eyes at Turner Field on him, Mr. Santana stood up and declared, “The people of Arizona and the people of Atlanta, Ga. — you should be ashamed of yourselves.” Mr. Santana took his moment to criticize Georgia’s H.B. 87, a law designed to mimic Arizona’s infamous S.B. 1070. The bill was signed into law on May 13, just two days prior.

Mr. Santana is not alone in his disappointment over MLB’s choice of Atlanta as the seat of the Civil Rights game. HB 87 symbolizes intolerance and stands against the civil rights strides professional baseball has made. Georgia’s new law, which goes into effect on July 1, 2011, requires everyone in Georgia to carry certain kinds of documentation that prove their right to be in the country. A U.S. driver’s license isn’t even good enough under HB 87, if it’s from a state that doesn’t verify immigration status when it issues licenses. If someone who is not carrying the documents required by HB 87 is stopped, he or she can be detained while the police attempt to determine his or her immigration status — even if he or she is here lawfully.

This law puts local police officers in the immigration enforcement business. The truth is, that immigration is an especially complex area of law. But, unfortunately, many cops think they know an unauthorized immigrant when they see one. People who seem foreign — because of their names, their accents, or the color of their skin — will likely be subjected to unequal treatment under this law.

In this day and age, baseball has come to represent the true American dream. Famous pitcher Orlando Hernandez played in the Cuban leagues until he defected from his country and got on a boat to the U.S. hoping to play in the majors. Infamous outfielder Manny Ramirez was born in the Dominican Republic, grew up in Washington Heights and climbed his way into the major leagues eventually hitting around 550 home runs in his career.

It is unfortunate that MLB decided to have such an important game in a state where people like Mr. Hernandez, Mr. Ramirez, and multiple players on both teams in the Civil Rights Game could be subject to racial profiling. We disagree with MLB Commissioner Bud Selig when he said “Atlanta is really a perfect place for this …That is why the [Civil Rights Game] is here.”

I believe that baseball is about America — all of America. Celebrating the sport’s definite contribution to acceptance in a state that passed a law promoting xenophobia is an offense to the players, the sport, and the fans like myself, who believe in the integrity of baseball.

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