Hysteria in the Heartland

By David Seminara on May 15, 2010

Here in Chicago, we have two $100 million-plus baseball teams that can't hit, and a hockey team on the brink of its first Stanley Cup title in nearly 50 years. But the team that's been in the headlines is one that isn't even allowed to play. Of course, I'm referring to the girl's high school basketball team from north suburban Highland Park which won’t be competing in a tournament in Arizona in December because school officials claim that "students' safety or liberty might be placed at risk because of state immigration law."

The school is obviously making a political statement but is trying to defend itself by hiding behind the student's safety ruse. When the story first broke on Wednesday, District 113 Assistant Superintendent Suzan Hebson told the Chicago Tribune that the trip to Arizona "would not be aligned with our beliefs and values." As the father of two young boys who will soon be enrolled in public schools, this is one of the more chilling statements that I've read in a newspaper in a very long time. Pardon me, Madame Hebson, but how are you so certain that all of your students and their families share your politically correct "beliefs and values?"

Someone in the school district obviously recognized that her statement made bad copy, and by Thursday the bogus "it's not political, it's the safety of the students" spin was rolled out in full force. In order to buy this safety argument you'd need to swallow the notion that police officers in Arizona are going to be pulling over school buses to ask for papers, bringing paddy wagons to high school sports events, and perhaps even raiding schools themselves. No rational person can honestly believe that this is how Arizona is going to enforce S.B. 1070.

But irrational fear and paranoia are inevitable given the media coverage of the new law. Take, for example, the Chicago Tribune's coverage of a small demonstration prior to a game at Wrigley Field on Friday calling for a move of the team's spring training facility out of Arizona. The prominent headline on the Tribune homepage leading to the coverage read "Fans: Move Spring Training out of Arizona." But if you read the very first line of the story, you realize that the demonstration consisted of only "dozens" of people. The attendance at the game was nearly 40,000 people, so the fact that only "dozens" stopped to join the protest doesn't really back up the headline. To be more accurate, I might have suggested, "99.9% of Cubs Fans Ignore Protestors" or something along those lines.

Pulling the plug on an athletic competition, especially a youth competition, rarely makes sense, and I wouldn't support the school's decision even if I opposed Arizona S.B. 1070 (which I don't). There are only very limited circumstances when I would support barring athletes from competition, and this is definitely not one of them.

Word now is that the girls from Highland Park, who sold cookies to finance their trip, may now play in a tournament in Florida. But how can they be certain that all of Florida's laws align with their "beliefs and values"? (or at least those of their assistant superintendent). After all, Florida is apparently a state where having sexual relations with a porcupine is illegal, unmarried women are prohibited from parachuting on Sundays, and men are forbidden from wearing strapless gowns in public. And they're worried about a state that merely wants to enforce immigration law?