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The NFL and Martin Luther King Day


The 2015 Super Bowl is scheduled to be played in Glendale, Arizona on February 1, 13 days after Arizona honors Martin Luther King Jr. and the anniversary of his birthday in 1929. But neither activity would be taking place in Arizona had it not been for the political power of the National Football League.

I’m Evan Weiner with the Politics of Sports Business.

Without the Super Bowl, it might have taken a lot longer for Arizona to recognize Martin Luther King Day. In 1990 the NFL awarded Super Bowl 27 to Tempe knowing Arizona was not on board with the celebration. NFL owners got assurances that would change.

The story of Arizona and the King Holiday started in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan recognized King and Arizona did the same. But in 1987 new Governor Evan Meacham decided not to celebrate the holiday.

In 1989, the state legislature passed legislation to create the holiday but opponents managed to get enough signatures to get voters in the state to decide on whether to honor King in November 1990. Arizona voters overturned the legislature’s decision and the NFL moved Super Bowl 27 to Pasadena, California

NFL owners along with the National Football League Players Association stepped up the pressure and told Arizona politicians that the league would never consider playing a Super Bowl in the Phoenix area unless the state recognized the holiday.

The January 1996 Super Bowl became available, and the NFL was interested in going to Tempe if Arizona said yes to Martin Luther King Day. In 1992, Arizona voters passed a referendum honoring the slain civil rights leader. In 1993, NFL gave Super Bowl 30 to Tempe. The promise of additional Super Bowls in the Phoenix area helped spur Arizona lawmakers to free up public money to build the Glendale Stadium for Arizona Cardinals ownership. The Super Bowl is more than a championship football game although most people tend to overlook that aspect. More attention should be paid to the significance of the Super Bowl as a political powerhouse because the Big Game is more than just a quasi-national holiday. It is a political force.

This article was republished with permission from the original author and publisher, Evan Weiner.


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