More than 200 faith leaders from around the country, including dozens from Arizona, are calling on the National Football League to move next year’s Super Bowl out of the state over restrictive voting legislation it passed last year.
In 2021, the Arizona Legislature passed voting bills that would purge some voters from the permanent early voting list and shorten the amount of time voters have to fix ballots that weren’t signed.
The proposed legislation was part of a wave of bills introduced by Republicans across the country following President Joe Biden’s narrow victory over former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Similar legislation has been introduced this year, including a bill that adds additional restrictions on Arizonans who opt to vote early.
In a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent Jan. 27, faith leaders said the bills would worsen already discriminatory voting laws and harm voters of color, rural voters, and poor and low-income voters.
“As the NFL has recently considered relocating Super Bowl LVI because of COVID-19, we, as faith leaders, ask you to consider relocating Super Bowl LVII from Arizona because of another disease: the disease of racism, and particularly, its symptom of voter suppression,” the letter read.
The letter also called out Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s “ruthless” move to vote with Congressional Republicans to uphold the Senate filibuster and effectively doom federal voting rights legislation.
“This federal legislation would have mitigated the effect of Arizona’s voter suppression laws and those enacted across 18 other states,” the letter read. “…this is yet another blow Senator Sinema has dealt the Arizona electorate by voting against a $15 minimum wage last year.”
Arizona is currently set to host the Super Bowl in Glendale in 2023.
Super Bowl Boycott Has Precedent in Arizona
The NFL wouldn’t be the first sports league to take a stand on the issue of voting rights. Last year Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game out of Georgia after the state passed a bill that would make it harder for people to vote and give more power to Republican lawmakers.
Several high-profile Arizona business leaders also weighed in on the voting legislation last year and asked the legislature to reject the proposals, including Michael Bidwill, owner of the Arizona Cardinals.
“Arizonans have an election system that is safe, secure, and convenient. Through the hard work of election officials and leaders from both parties, our voting system serves as a national model,” the Arizona business owners wrote in an op-ed. “Despite this success, we are now witnessing legislative efforts aimed at not only undoing this carefully crafted system, but actually attempting to suppress the votes of Arizonans. These efforts are misguided and must be defeated.”
The NFL has also shown in the past that it is willing to pull a Super Bowl over Arizona’s politics.
While Martin Luther King Jr. Day was designated a federal holiday in 1983, it wasn’t recognized in Arizona until nearly a decade later.
In 1990, Arizonans put the fate of an MLK Jr. Day holiday to a public vote, and it failed.
This prompted a nationwide boycott of Arizona, culminating in the NFL disqualifying Phoenix as the host city for the 1993 Super Bowl, costing the city a projected $200 million in revenue, according to the Pima County Public Library.
Following the backlash from losing the Super Bowl, Arizonans voted to adopt the holiday in 1992.
Arizonans celebrated the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday on Jan. 18, 1993, and the state got its chance to host the Super Bowl in 1996.
Faith leaders hearkened back to the controversial chapter of the state’s history in their letter to Goodell last week.
“Nearly thirty years ago, the NFL relocated Super Bowl XXVII from Arizona because of the state’s refusal to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day,” they wrote. “We ask that you take the same action for Super Bowl LVII.”
See the full list of Arizona faith leaders who signed onto last week’s letter here.