Historical precedent calls for NFL to make statement against injustice

With the “Papers Please” law in Arizona, there are calls for the major sports leagues to support a boycott of the state over the racist law. There is a precedent in sports history for athletes to take a stand to right a wrong. In 1965 the American Football League All Star Game was moved from New Orleans, Louisiana to Houston Texas in response to the Jim Crow laws of the time.

At the time, the American Football League was more racially mixed than it’s elder competition. There were 22 African-American players who were selected to the post season All Star game including two Oakland Raiders (Art Powell and Clem Daniels) and two future Raiders (Willie Brown and Dave Grayson.) The black players were subject to the segregation laws of the time, despite the fact that the civil rights act had passed the previous year.

These men had been promised that there would be no problems, but they were not allowed in bars. They had to have special “colored” taxis called for them to get anywhere, if they were even going to get a ride. Finally, they said enough is enough and organized a boycott. The AFL ultimately moved the game to Houston, where it was played.

The notoriety that New Orleans gained from this incident was part of the impetus that led them to strike down the anti-civil rights behaviors and paved the way for them to have the Saints franchise granted.

Hall of Famer Ron Mix talks about the boycott of New Orleans

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More recently, the National Football League rebuked the state of Arizona over that state’s refusal to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday as a holiday. They moved Super Bowl XXVII from Tempe to Pasadena, California in support a nationwide boycott of the state.

It is time for the sporting world to follow in this tradition and do what must be done. Arizona’s “Papers Please” law requires that people show proof of citizenship upon “reasonable suspicion” that they might be an illegal alien. Essentially, this gives the police blanket power to stop anyone, so long as they can conjure up a “reasonable suspicion” that the person may be illegal. Despite the state government’s assertion, to many “reasonable suspicion” of being illegal is brown skin, and/or a bit of a foreign accent.

Even more disconcerting than the blatant racism in this bill, is the gross expansion of police powers. It is easy to think that only illegals have anything to worry about, but it establishes a precedent for the expansion of the reasons that the police can legally stop a citizen of the United States. The person who is stopped is presumed to be a criminal and has to provide proof of their status, so citizens are going to be stopped and ask to provide their papers to prove their citizenship.

It is easy to dismiss when the target is “illegals.” By that nomenclature their very existence is contrary to societal norms. However, once the expanded police power is accepted, it becomes easier to expand it. It is a form of incremental-ism that makes it easier to digest. However, the more expansive the police powers, the more freedom is restricted.

The AFL All Stars had their say in 1965. In 1990 the NFL joined that legacy. Roger Goodell has a chance to make his mark on this issue. He has the opportunity to put pressure on the state. They hosted the Super Bowl last in 2008, so they are not on the docket for one in the near future. However, he could state that AZ will be banned from any Super Bowl consideration until the law is rescinded. He could be even more draconian and force the Cardinals to play their home games in an out of state location until such time as the law is rescinded.

The Raiders also have a chance to make a statement. They play in Arizona in week three of the regular season, and have a long history of being progressive in regards to race issues. The team should issue a request to the league to have that game moved out of Arizona. There are players on the roster who are immigrants and the team is concerned that they could be harassed by local authorities.

All it takes for evil to take root is for good people to say nothing:

 

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About Patrick A. Patterson, Senior Writer

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