Friday, February 3, 2012

Occupy The Super Bowl

by Jordan Ward
"[T'he very people that built the stadium in which the Super Bowl is going to be played and the very people who built the city that is enjoying the limelight — the very people who made this possible — are being disrespected.”   Jeff Harris, AFL-CIO
 I had hoped when Major League Baseball held its All Star Game in Arizona last year that the players, especially those of Hispanic descent, would have boycotted or at least spoken out against the state's draconian immigration policy.  (See America Past Time.)  They didn't. Now, its football's turn as Indiana becomes the the nation's 23rd right to work state.  -- Lovechilde

Super Bowl Players Should Stand Up For Indiana Workers

By Travis Waldon, cross-posted from ThinkProgress (originally posted on January 25, 2012)

Last July, Major League Baseball blew an opportunity to make a difference. With 28 players who were either Hispanic or of Hispanic descent participating in the league’s annual All-Star Game in Phoenix, Arizona, and the eyes of the sports world watching, nary a one spoke out against the radical anti-immigration law Arizona had passed a year before, even though it could have directly affected the players and will directly affect many of their fans. “I ain’t Jackie Robinson,” David Ortiz, one of baseball’s biggest characters, said.

Over the next 10 days, the National Football League will have a similar chance to make a difference.

Just two weeks before Super Bowl XLVI kicks off at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, more than 10,000 people marched through the city to protest right-to-work legislation that is being pushed through the state’s legislature. The legislation passed the state Senate this week and the state House today, and is backed by Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). Considering the NFL nearly lost its 2011 season, and Super Bowl XLVI with it, to a labor dispute, Indiana Republicans’ assault on workers is a cause the players should be familiar with.

Fortunately, there are signs that the NFL players aren’t going to repeat Major League Baseball’s mistake. Several players have spoken out against the legislation, and NFL Players Association President DeMaurice Smith said his organization is already taking action. “We’ve been on picket lines in Indianapolis already with hotel workers who were basically pushed to the point of breaking on the hotel rooms that they had to clean because they were not union workers,” Smith told the Nation. “We’ve been on picket lines in Boston and San Antonio. So, the idea of participating in a legal protest is something that we’ve done before.”

That’s a good first step. But it’s not enough. Indiana union officials are contemplating disrupting Super Bowl-related events to draw attention to their cause, clogging city streets and slowing down events around Lucas Oil Stadium (which was built and is maintained by union workers). Labor leaders are hesitant, though, fearing that such actions could give the city and their cause “a black eye” with people who think sports and politics don’t mix. If some of the league’s top players, particularly those participating in the Super Bowl, spoke in support of those efforts, however, that perception could change.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, one of the NFL’s most recognizable players, felt strongly enough about his own rights that he signed on as a plaintiff in the players’ antitrust lawsuit against the league last year. So did Logan Mankins, Brady’s teammate, and Osi Umenyiora, a prominent defensive end for the New York Giants. Those players were willing to risk backlash from the league, public scrutiny, and their own images to fight league owners for better benefits and wages. In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, they should do the same for workers who don’t have the luxury of multimillion-dollar contracts, rich endorsement deals, and the good fortune of playing a game for a living.

Sure, with Super Bowl week ahead of them, political causes may be the furthest thing from the minds of most players. But with thousands of reporters conducting hundreds of interviews before, during, and after the big game, the players will have the chance to stand up for the rights of people they should be fighting for. Unlike their counterparts in baseball, they shouldn’t blow it.

UPDATE from ThinkProgress

The AFL-CIO will have a “constant presence” at Super Bowl events, Jeff Harris, Communications and Outreach Coordinator for the Indiana AFL-CIO said, but its actions will be informative rather than disruptive. The union, which encouraged workers to meet with their state representatives in the days before the law passed and organized rallies outside the statehouse Wednesday, will pass out leaflets and pamphlets around Super Bowl village and Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of the game, Harris said.

UNITE HERE, a hotel workers’ union, has organized its own protest of the Hyatt hotel Friday, where several hundred workers will picket to protest low wages, missed overtime pay, and the firing of contract workers. Though its protest isn’t specifically tied to the right-to-work law, UNITE officials say the law will make their ongoing attempts to organize hotel workers harder, and other unions’ protesters will join their picket.

According to a UNITE release, DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, will participate in the protest. Smith has issued a statement and written an editorial against the right-to-work law, and several NFL players, including Indiana native and Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, have also spoken out

In a January interview with The Nation’s Dave Zirin, Smith, who sits on the AFL-CIO’s executive board, said that “if the issue is still percolating by the time of Super Bowl, I can promise you that the players of the National Football League and their union will be up front about what we think about this and why.” Though Smith is slated to appear at the UNITE protest, the NFLPA wouldn’t confirm if he or other officials would aide other union protests.

But Smith has made his opposition to the Indiana law clear. “We share all the same issues that the American people share,” he told Zirin. “We want decent wages. We want a fair pension. We want to be taken care of when we get hurt. We want a decent and safe working environment. So when you look at proposed legislation in a place like Indiana that wants to call it something like ‘Right to Work,’ I mean, let’s just put the hammer on the nail. It’s untrue.”

Various local Occupy groups will also take action, local organizers told ThinkProgress, to show their support for Indiana workers. And even though right-to-work is now law in Indiana, protesters have promised to keep fighting. “This is not a fight that is going to go away,” Tithi Bhattacharya, a Purdue professor and Occupy Purdue member, said of the right-to-work struggle. “In the coming days and weeks we are going to have to build this struggle on the street, in the workplace and in our communities. Super Bowl Sunday is another opportunity to make our voices heard.”


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