Arizona nearing risky intersection: The crossroads of politics and sports

Apr 13, 2021, 7:07 AM | Updated: 10:57 am
The United States flag is held on the field for the national anthem before the NFL game between the...
The United States flag is held on the field for the national anthem before the NFL game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Detroit Lions at State Farm Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Lions and Cardinals tied 27-27. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Arizona knows how to look small. Like the Super Bowl we lost because we wouldn’t recognize Martin Luther King Day. Or the national embarrassment that came with SB 1070. Have we not learned from our mistakes?

This time, the 2023 Super Bowl is at risk. If our state passes legislation perceived to be political tools of voter suppression, the NFL will feel extreme pressure to move America’s premier sporting event out of Arizona. And it will happen.

Just like it did when Major League Baseball pulled its All-Star Game from the city of Atlanta.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell simply has no room to maneuver or moonwalk, having issued this statement last June, 10 days after the death of George Floyd:

“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systemic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier…”

Translation: Arizona will lose the Super Bowl if our legislative body follows Georgia’s lead. Super Bowl LVII will probably relocate to Las Vegas, bringing poetic justice to the Roman numerals attached.

Some Arizonans surely believe that losing a Super Bowl isn’t a big deal. Most people watch from their couches, anyway, unable to afford or procure tickets to the biggest stage in football.

Others see the lost opportunity. The lost money, lost status and lost prestige. The previous two Super Bowls at State Farm Stadium have created real history, delivering transcendent entertainment. The Giants beat the Patriots in a dramatic finish, preventing New England from achieving a perfect season. The Patriots beat the Seahawks at the goal line, on an endgame interception by Malcolm Butler, a cornerback recently signed by the Cardinals.

As a rising power broker in the NFL, Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill is surely trying to avoid the drama and stigma that comes with a relocated Super Bowl. That kind of loss would be Strike Two for State 48. It would box Goodell and the league into a contentious corner, forcing the NFL to take another public stand and polarize their fan base even further.

Strip another Super Bowl from Arizona, and it will be a while before the NFL even thinks about coming back. That would be a definitive loss for Bidwill inside the power hierarchy of the NFL.

On the other side of town, Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick seems to be swinging from the other side of the ring. During a recent radio interview on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station, Kendrick voiced his displeasure with MLB for relocating the All-Star Game out Atlanta. He has been criticized for donating to politicians who later became affiliated with the wild conspiracy theories of QAnon. He has been photographed and scolded for not wearing a mask inside Chase Field. He is easily placed on one side of the narrative, and that’s not always fair. Not when Kendrick has built a highly-decorated culture/working environment inside his organization.

Suns owner Robert Sarver knows the feeling. He led an organizational protest against SB 1070 over a decade ago, and it remains one of the bravest things he has ever done, a gesture that galvanized the entire organization. And I’ll never forget the look on Alvin Gentry’s face as he scrolled through hundreds of racist, threatening emails he received thereafter.

These are volatile times, indeed. More than ever. And Arizona is once again approaching its most dangerous intersection, the crossroads of politics and sports.

Can we please do better this time?

Dan Bickley

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Arizona nearing risky intersection: The crossroads of politics and sports