Major League Baseball announced Friday that it will be moving this summer’s All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to the recent passage of Georgia’s restrictive voting law. The new law restricts voting, particularly for minority groups.
The new voting law added new identification requirements for absentee voting, limited the use of drop boxes, granted more authority over elections to the legislature and made it a misdemeanor for groups to offer food or water to voters waiting in line near polling places.
MLB’s decision to pull the game, the biggest prize it can award its cities, represents a decisive departure for an organization that traditionally has been reluctant to involve itself in what it views as potentially polarizing political issues. The move follows a week in which executives from more than 170 companies joined the corporate push.
“Over the last week, we have engaged in thoughtful conversations with Clubs, former and current players, the Players Association, and The Players Alliance, among others, to listen to their views,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft.”
Relative to other professional sports leagues such as the NBA and the WNBA, baseball has avoided placing itself at the center of politicized issues. Last year, MLB deviated from that course with its decision to paint a tribute to Black Lives Matter on the back of its pitcher’s mounds in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd — a small but noticeable statement from largely White MLB, which has struggled to build appeal and a sense of belonging for Black players in recent years.
Manfred’s decision to move the All-Star Game goes far beyond what any other leading American institution has done so far to take a stand against new voting restrictions, and his strongly worded announcement was striking for a league with owners who span the political spectrum.
“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Mr. Manfred said in a statement. “Fair access to voting continues to have our unwavering support.”
Athletes ranging from MLB players to NBA stars tweeted out their support for MLB stepping up and relocating the All Star Game.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 2, 2021
But others, including MLB team the Atlanta Braves were not on the side of the decision.
The Atlanta Braves released a press statement that can only be described as tone deaf and unable to see the bigger picture.
“This was neither our decision, nor our recommendation and we are saddened that fans will not be able to see this event in our city. The Braves organization will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities and we had hoped our city could use this event as a platform to enhance the discussion,” the statement read. “Our city has always been known as a uniter in divided times and we will miss the opportunity to address issues that are important to our community. Unfortunately, businesses, employees, and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision.”
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp who criticized the decision to move the All-Star Game and tried to pin the blame on state Democrats for their vocal criticism of the voting restrictions.
“Today, Major League Baseball caved to fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said. “Georgians – and all Americans – should fully understand what the MLB’s knee-jerk decision means: cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included. If the left doesn’t agree with you, facts and the truth do not matter.”
Georgia Democrats had not called for a boycott of the game, but were building pressure on Major League Baseball and Georgia-based corporations to oppose the state’s voting law.
Ms. Abrams, who ran against Mr. Kemp for governor in 2018 and may challenge him again next year, said Friday that she was “disappointed” league officials had pulled the All-Star Game but that she was “proud of their stance on voting rights.”
“This is the single greatest example we have right now to demonstrate to lawmakers who are considering these bills in other states — states like Texas, Florida and Arizona — that, as they consider these rules, their actions will be met consequences,” said Michael Tyler, who helped players and organizers use last month’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta as a chance to voice opposition to bills they felt would restrict voting rights.
“A boycott is clearly a suboptimal situation,” he added. “In a perfect world, these kind of measures wouldn’t be necessary at all.”
Finally the idea that MLB is harming the community and economy of Atlanta is a laughable take.
No plans had been scheduled, no tickets had been sold. The revenue the game could have brought had not even began yet.
Secondly it wasn’t MLB who decided to impact the lives of those who live in Georgia, it was Georgia lawmakers. I think Joy Taylor sums it up rather nicely.
The politicians hurt local businesses and citizens not MLB. https://t.co/i0rXYP95ik
— Joy Taylor (@JoyTaylorTalks) April 2, 2021
Going forward it will be interesting to see how MLB reacts to social movements. They stepped into the shallow waters last year with the Black Lives Matter movement, and here they are taking another step into the waters. They are decades behind on inclusiveness and political statements compared to the NBA and WNBA, but with decisions like this, they are moving in the right direction.