Supporters of the Georgia law say the changes it makes to the state’s voting system are necessary to bolster confidence in elections. Opponents, including many high-profile activist groups, say it will lead to longer lines, partisan control of elections and more difficult logistics for voters trying to cast their ballots by mail.
They say the bill’s objective is making voting more difficult for people of color, something Democrats see as a direct response to the outcome of November’s presidential and senatorial elections. Led by a large turnout of Black voters, who voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden, the state voted for a Democrat in a presidential race for the first time in nearly two decades and eventually elected two Democrats to the Senate, too.
After trying to avoid taking sides in the political debate, corporations of all varieties have begun finding neutrality impossible, and this week has seen an avalanche of statements from executives, including Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey, who described the bill as “wrong” and “a step backward.”
On Friday afternoon, MLB became the latest significant entity to take a position.
“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. 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,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.
“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” he added. “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.”
Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts, one of the two Black managers in the majors, said he supported the move.
“I’m not completely versed on everything, but my takeaway from the bill was essentially to suppress voting for people of color,” Roberts said. “And that’s something I fundamentally and intrinsically disagree with.”
Support for the move was not universal around baseball, particularly in Atlanta, where the Braves quickly issued a statement saying they were “deeply disappointed” in the decision.
“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.”
Georgia lawmakers and public figures expressed anger, disappointment and approval Friday in their responses to the announcement.
Freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said MLB needed to “stop listening to their corporate communist sponsors and remember the little guys who buy their tickets."
“Keep the politics off the field and stop ruining everything!” she tweeted.
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) threatened MLB’s antitrust exemption in his tweet.
“In light of @MLB’s stance to undermine election integrity laws, I have instructed my staff to begin drafting legislation to remove Major League Baseball’s federal antitrust exception,” he wrote.
Even Democrats have been unable to agree on the role corporations should take in protesting the law. In an interview with ESPN on Wednesday night, Biden said he would “strongly support” moving the game from Atlanta after the passage of the law he referred to as “Jim Crow on steroids.”
Former candidate for Georgia governor and voting rights champion Stacey Abrams had mixed feelings about the move.
“Disappointed @MLB will move the All-Star Game, but proud of their stance on voting rights,” Abrams tweeted. “GA GOP traded economic opportunity for suppression.”
Abrams added that she urged events and productions to “come & speak out or stay & fight” on behalf of people of color who now stood to lose wages because of boycotts.
Newly elected Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), who released a statement Thursday opposing boycotts as a response to the law, blamed Republicans for hurting the state’s economy.
“The leadership of Georgia’s Republican Party is out of control and Georgia is hemorrhaging business and jobs because of their disastrous new Jim Crow voting law,” Ossoff said in the statement. “The Governor and the legislature are deliberately making it harder for Black voters to vote. They know it. Everybody knows it and this egregious and immoral assault on voting rights has also put our state’s economy at grave risk.”
MLB suspended all political donations after the Jan. 6 Capitol invasion, but the decision to move the All-Star Game still constitutes a surprise.
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.
Moves such as the All-Star Game relocation have a history of making a difference. The NFL originally awarded the 1993 Super Bowl to Arizona, aware that the state would be voting on whether to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday in November 1990. When the measure did not pass, NFL owners voted to move the game.
“Proud to call myself part of the @mlb family today @morethanavote #BlackLivesMatter,” tweeted NBA star LeBron James, who was active and outspoken in support of voting rights ahead of the November election and officially joined the ownership group of the Boston Red Sox this week.
James and Michael Tyler led athletes last year in forming the voting rights advocacy group More Than a Voter. Tyler said the financial impact of the All-Star Game “will be real” but noted that boycotts from other corporations over a long period of time probably would be more devastating than losing a few days of events.
“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 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.”
MLB has not announced a replacement venue. The Dodgers were supposed to host the game last year but missed their assigned turn when it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. MLB assigned the 2022 game as a replacement but could decide to turn to Los Angeles, which probably will be more prepared than a city that hadn’t been expecting to host.
A previous version of this story identified Rep. Jeff Duncan as a Republican who represents a district in Georgia. He represents a district in South Carolina.
Amy B. Wang contributed to this report.