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Dan Bickley

Arizona nearing risky intersection: The crossroads of politics and sports

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 08: 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)

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?

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Bickley & Marotta

Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier