“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.
Read that sentence again. What American, regardless of political party or race or creed or religion — left or right, Black or White, Christian or Jew, vegan or carnivore, Yankees or Red Sox — can disagree with that? We are a democracy. Decisions in a democracy are made by the will of the people. Not some of the people. All of the people. This didn’t used to be a point of contention, and that’s not some woke mob point of view. It’s just American.
It’s healthy to scrutinize the people who oversee sports and work for the owners of franchises who try to profit from them. Yet if baseball is still somehow woven into the fabric of America — if it’s still uniquely of this country, even as it grows more diverse and global — then its leaders have an obligation to acknowledge that every eligible American citizen should have the easiest opportunity to cast a ballot, regardless of the level of election.
This fits, too, the sport’s rather rapid evolution with regards to race relations, a change not even a year in the making. Baseball has a generation-old problem of declining Black participation. Frankly, it too often feels like a White sport injected with Latin American flavor. The NBA, with a largely Black labor force, finds it easier to lead on issues involving race and equality.
Then, last spring’s killing of George Floyd under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — an event that roiled the country and continues to remain in the moment because of Chauvin’s trial — emboldened baseball’s Black players to speak out and fostered conversations the sport had too seldom had.
Baseball clubhouses tend to lean right, often heavily. Yet the lasting images of a summer of unrest throughout the sport include the New York Mets and Miami Marlins laying a No. 42 jersey — the number worn by Jackie Robinson — at home plate before the two teams walked off the field as a sign of unity and protest. They include veteran Black players Curtis Granderson, Dee Strange-Gordon and Cameron Maybin forming the Players Alliance, aimed at creating more opportunities in Black communities. They include the impassioned words of countless players — Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox, Dominic Smith of the Mets, on and on — talking frankly and jarringly about what it’s like to grow up Black in the United States.
That all mattered, and it had to be factored into MLB’s thinking on the Atlanta All-Star Game. It all helped strengthen the idea that athletes and leagues shouldn’t remove themselves from the discussion. They should help lead it. That those voices and images still resonate could be the lasting impact of 2020’s coronavirus-shortened baseball season. At least something good came of it.
“Proud to call myself part of the @mlb family today,” tweeted none other than LeBron James.
The move had reach. The move had relevance. It also had ramifications.
It’s important to note, contrary to the repeated claims of President Biden — false claims — that the new Georgia rules do not shorten the hours that polls are open. Indeed, they even expand the opportunity to cast early ballots in some counties.
But to hide behind those realities is to ignore the fact that Georgia’s state board of elections can now seize control of ballot counting from local authorities. It’s to ignore the limits on ballot drop boxes that make them all but irrelevant. It’s to discount the dismissal of mobile voting centers that can help ease the burden at overcrowded polling spots and encourage people to vote.
The Braves, to their shame, said they were “deeply disappointed” and distanced themselves from MLB’s move. They could have said, “We understand, and we’ll work to make Georgia more inclusive.” But apparently they know their base.
“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 Braves said in a statement.
Uh, how would that have worked, exactly?
“Here’s Freddie Freeman of the hometown Braves in the Home Run Derby. You know, Freddie is eligible to vote in Georgia, but earlier this year the state made it more difficult for thousands of people to exercise that same right. Oh, man, he got ahold of that one!”
In their statement, the Braves lamented the economic losses of MLB’s decision.
“Unfortunately, businesses, employees, and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision,” the club said.
Left unsaid: The oppressive new voting restrictions create victims across the state. That they would be disproportionally Black is also unsaid — and intended. Take into account the roots of these new laws — the conspiracy theories surrounding November’s presidential election that suggested widespread fraud when there was, in fact, none — and consider that they’re designed to prevent what happened then, which was Georgia turning blue.
This move by MLB says, quite clearly, that there are consequences for the businesses, the employees and the fans of a given state or city based on the actions of its leaders. The discussion is furthered by moving the game, not by keeping it there.
There is precedent here. In 1990, Arizona voters shot down a ballot initiative that would have established Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an official holiday. In March 1991, the NFL’s owners voted to move Super Bowl XXVII, set for January 1993, from the state.
And lo and behold, what happened? In 1992, Arizonans recognized the holiday. And the state now hosts Super Bowls.
In 2017, the NBA moved its All-Star Game out of Charlotte because of HB2, a law that barred local governments from extending civil rights protections to gay and transgender people. After the state repealed portions of that law, the league awarded Charlotte the game in 2019.
Atlanta will get an All-Star Game once Georgians put into office people who believe in the idea that each American deserves a vote. This isn’t partisan. It’s democratic.