PHOENIX – Faith leaders from around the country are calling for the NFL to move the 2023 Super Bowl out of Arizona, citing several bills they characterize as voter suppression.
“We all would love for Arizona to see that kind of revenue, to bring that many people here to invest in our state, but I think there are times where you can’t remain silent, and this is the time where money has to not supersede morality, ” said Rev. Dontá McGilvery, Pastor of Outreach and Justice at First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix. “We have to show that money cannot be more important than people. And right now, the most important thing is voting rights and how our government is restricting that.”
Rev. Stephen A. Green, Chair of Faith for Black Lives in New York, created a petition addressed to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell calling for Super Bowl LVII to be moved from Arizona, which is scheduled for Feb. 12, 2023, in Glendale. It now has over 200 signatures from faith leaders, including Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., and Bishop William Barber II.
“As the NFL has recently considered relocating Super Bowl LVII 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 petition said.
The bills in question include SB 1003 which would limit the amount of time voters have to fix a signature on a mail-in ballot, and SB 1485, which would remove voters from the Permanent Early Voting List of people who automatically receive mail-in ballots if they failed to vote in consecutive election cycles.
Of the 200-plus signatures from faith leaders, 36 live in Arizona. One is Rev. Aubrey L. Barnwell, a pastor at First New Life Church in Phoenix.
“The reason I signed (the petition) was because of the persistence we have to go through to actually get visibility and to realize how critical it is for those of us who are in leadership, specifically faith and the connection between voting rights and people having access to the polls,” Barnwell said.
However, Barnwell, along with the other faith leaders in Arizona who signed the petition, have seen a major pushback from those who want to keep the Super Bowl in Arizona, in large part due to the significant economic impact that the event would provide to the Phoenix metropolitan area.
During the 2015 Super Bowl, which was held in Glendale, the greater Phoenix area saw a $719 million economic impact, according to a study from Arizona State’s W.P. Carey School of Business. That was up over $200 million from the $500 million the area saw during the 2008 Super Bowl.
This is familiar territory for Arizonans.
In 1993, Arizona was set to be the home of Super Bowl XXVII, an event that was estimated to generate between $200 million to $250 million in economic revenue for the state.
However, after Arizona voters failed to approve a 1990 proposition that would have made Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state paid holiday, the NFL and its commissioner at the time, Paul Tagliabue, decided to move the game from Tempe to Pasadena, California.
When asked about the petition, a spokesperson for Gov. Doug Ducey released a statement that said, “The benefits, both direct and indirect, for businesses large and small are tremendous. It’s an opportunity to put Arizona on full display across the country. It is unfathomable why anyone would want to deny Arizona these benefits and this opportunity. … To call on the NFL to not bring the Super Bowl to Arizona over a bill that may not get out of committee is beyond belief.”
There is precedence.
In 2021, Major League Baseball pulled its All-Star game out of Atlanta and moved it to Denver due to what some said was a restrictive voting law against people of color in Georgia.
That decision was inspiration for Green when he was creating his petition.
“It definitely inspired it in understanding that sporting teams and sporting corporations have a role to play in protecting our democracy,” he said. “Major League Baseball’s move to suddenly move the All-Star game from Georgia I think suggests that it is possible to move the Super Bowl game from Arizona.”
When asked if he expects the NFL to respond to the petition, Green said, “We do. You know, we will continue to escalate our ask, and our movement until they do.”
Part of Green’s plan to escalate his movement is to hold a rally called “I Love Democracy” on Feb. 14 in Glendale.
“We will hold a press conference in a rally to prove how serious we are about this effort to move the Super Bowl from Arizona,” Green said.