DENVER — Major League Baseball, in its boldest move since integrating its sport in 1947 with Jackie Robinson, announced Friday that Atlanta will be stripped of hosting the 2021 All-Star Game.
In protesting Georgia’s new discriminatory voting bill, MLB acted without waiting to see what other leagues or conferences will do.
It took a stand, even though baseball is considered to be the most conservative of the major sports leagues.
“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,’’ Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement announcing the decision. “In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States. We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.’’
Just like that baseball, in protesting a political act, became the first league to move one of its jewel events in the same calendar year, just three months before the July 13 All-Star Game.
By making this move, Manfred has put other leagues on notice as long as Georgia insists on standing by this bill.
The NFL surely can’t give Atlanta another Super Bowl.
Same goes for the NBA and its All-Star Game.
And the NCAA and the Final Four.
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Maybe, Major League Baseball had no choice.
You can’t support Black Lives Matter, give $10 million to the Players Alliance and expect that honoring Jackie Robinson every April 15 is enough.
You can’t preach about appealing to a diverse audience, and stay silent when there are political issues that impact that very audience.
When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the legislation, called the “Election Integrity Act," it was challenged by the ACLU and other organizations in federal court. The law includes ID requirements on absentee ballots, eliminating early voting beyond one week, limiting access to voting drop boxes and banning the distribution of food and water to those waiting in line to vote.
President Joe Biden called the legislature, “Jim Crow on steroids," and on Wednesday urged MLB to pull the All-Star Game out of Atlanta.
The CEOs of Coca Cola and Delta, each headquartered in Atlanta, also issued statements this week condemning the restrictive voting law that passed last week.
A view of first base in Atlanta. (Photo: Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports)
Kemp was incensed at MLB’s decision.
“Major League Baseball caved to fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies,’’ he said in a statement. “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."
"I will not back down. Georgians will not be bullied. We will continue to stand up for secure, accessible, fair elections.’’
Well, good luck wooing national conventions, corporate events and major sporting events.
It’s still unknown where the All-Star Game will be relocated, but MLB will have to make sure it’s a state that is not considering a similar law. The Washington Post reported that lawmakers in 43 states have proposed at least 250 laws that would have voting constraints.
The NFL moved the 1993 Super Bowl out of Arizona when voters refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day as a state holiday, and the NBA moved the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte when state legislation discriminated against the transgender community, it led to change in those two places.
MLB knows its decision is controversial. Raynal Aaron, the grandson of the late Hank Aaron who delivered a powerful eulogy at his funeral, said that while Aaron would be upset by the legislation, he would not want the All-Star Game moved. Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young echoed that sentiment to The Athletic this week, fearing the economic impact could damage the community.
“Everything doesn’t depend on sports,’’ Young said, “but if you hurt the sports, you hurt the hotels, you hurt the airport, you hurt every business in town. So I can say this: The (law) is a stupid move. It doesn’t mean the people who did it are stupid. Our governor and secretary of state said this was a free and fair election.”
The Atlanta Braves, who have vehemently opposed to changing their nickname, also sent out a statement protesting MLB's move.
“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. … Unfortunately, businesses, employee, and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision."
MLB realizes this will diminish plans to celebrate Aaron's life, but it may also be an opportunity for players.
Clark suggested to USA TODAY Sports this week that the Georgia law could provide a platform for players to speak out and to remind fans of what Aaron and Robinson stood for and their legacies.
”It’s very impactful,’’ Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “because I think in a world now where people want and need to be heard – in this particular case people of color – for MLB to listen and be proactive, I think it sets a gone from MLB to the players that we have to be in it together.
This date, April 2, 2021, perhaps will resonate in baseball history.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
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