Will Pro Athletes Boycott Arizona?

There are few jobs that involve as much constant travel as professional sports. During a season, athletes travel to multiple states multiple times in a week, traversing geographical lines and legal jurisdictions hundreds of times over the course of a season.

Which means that, if anyone is uncomfortable about going to Arizona as a result of the state's new immigration law, pro athletes are good candidates.

Pro sports were brought into the immigration debate as soon as Arizona passed its law. Activists called for Major League Baseball to pull its 2011 All-Star Game from Phoenix, and major organizations have since followed suit. The Major League Baseball Players Association denounced the law. The Phoenix Suns, with the blessing of the National Basketball Association, wore uniforms emblazoned with "Los Suns" in a Cinco de Mayo protest. Players criticized Arizona's new policy.

Statements aside, things will really get interesting when a major-sport athlete announces he does not want to travel with his team to play in Arizona.

If that happens, it's likely that a baseball player will be the one to do it. Just under 28% of MLB players were born outside the U.S., the vast majority of them Latin or Hispanic. Orioles shortstop Cesar Izturis said Hispanics will get harassed, and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said that, if he were a player, he wouldn't go to the Phoenix All-Star Game. (NBA players will be traveling to Phoenix this month, but it's not as likely that anyone on the LA Lakers will refuse to play against the Suns in the Western Conference finals. No one on the Lakers roster, other than Spanish-born Pau Gasol, is Hispanic, and, after all, it's the playoffs.)

If baseball's Latino players fear harassment in Arizona, it seems logical that someone would refuse to travel there for games against the National League's Phoenix-based Arizona Diamondbacks.

The only MLB player to make headlines by criticizing Arizona's law, so far, has been Izturis. His Orioles are not scheduled to play the Diamondbacks this year. But one can assume that a few other players, at least, share similar feelings. The Diamondbacks play their next home games later this month against the San Francisco Giants and the Toronto Blue Jays. Both teams have several Latin players on their rosters.

It's not clear what would happen if a player did refuse to go, and perhaps no one will. The players' union would be obligated to represent a player if he did refuse, but, since there's nothing in baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement about players refusing to travel because of laws they don't like--or in political protest--the player may not have much of a case. Consequently, the union is unlikely to go out of its way, despite its opposition to the law, to encourage a player to take a doomed stand against his contract and to begin a formal grievance process when, or if, he is fined.

Regardless, it will be a huge sports and political story if anything like that happens. The words "Jackie Robinson" will be spoken, frequently.

Sports presents a unique context for Arizona's immigration law, as it relates to travel, business, and employment. It's evident that some are wary of traveling to Arizona. The Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association says it's been getting calls from people who want to know whether they'll have to show passports to cops on the street, and what will happen if they leave their hotel for a stop at 7-11 and forget to bring a diver's license.

Athletes are different from casual tourists, and from migrant workers who, farmers worry, may not come to Arizona this winter because of the new law. Athletes are constantly traveling to Arizona, and they are contractually bound to do so. They don't have a choice. At the same time, they have the economic wherewithal to make a political stand, at the possible expense of multi-thousand-dollar fines from their teams and the league.

This is all speculative for now, clearly. But it seems there's a vague potential, at lease, for something like this to happen. If it does, look out. The worlds of sports and politics would both go crazy.