The NFL Gave Arizona A Choice: Want A Super Bowl, Make Martin Luther King Day A State Holiday

The politics of the Super Bowl.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day has become an educational holiday in the National Basketball Association but there was a time, not long ago, when National Football League owners used their power to it make a holiday in Arizona. Without the NFL’s guarantee of giving the Phoenix-area the Super Bowl, it might have taken a lot longer for Arizona to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In 1990 the NFL awarded Super Bowl 27 to Tempe knowing Arizona was not on board with the holiday. NFL owners got assurances that would change. The story of Arizona and the King celebration started in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan recognized the holiday and Arizona did the same. But in 1987 new Governor Evan Meacham decided not to going along with Reagan.

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 changed course. The January 1996 Super Bowl became available, and the NFL was interested in going to Tempe if Arizona voters said yes to having a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In 1992, the voters passed a referendum honoring the slain civil rights leader. In 1993, NFL gave Super Bowl 30 to Tempe. The National Football League can wield political power if the owners want a political change.