Beginning on Friday afternoon, my phone blew up with news alerts, twitter notifications, and other articles calling upon Major League Baseball to move the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta due to Georgia’s new voter suppression laws targeting minority voters. It’s rare in this day and age to see the baseball universe in near agreement on any topic, but on this issue, those advocating for moving the game are absolutely correct: Major League Baseball must move the All-Star from Atlanta, and it cannot go back to Atlanta unless and until Georgia repeals its racist voter suppression law.
For those readers who might be firmly focused on Spring Training and missed this news, Georgia this week enacted a series of new election laws in response to Republicans losing the state in the 2020 General Election, along with the election of two Democrats as U.S. Senators. Since Georgia’s Republican Party didn’t seem to win over voters with its ideas in 2020, it simply decided to make voting harder for people who might oppose them. Some of the new restrictions include: limiting drop boxes, stripping the secretary of state of some of his authority, imposing new oversight of county election boards, restricting who can vote with provisional ballots, and making it a crime to offer food or water to voters waiting in lines. All of these provisions target black and brown voters, primarily in Fulton County (home to Atlanta), and attempt to interpose an already gerrymandered majority-white Republican state legislature into the electoral process so that it can simply change the results it doesn’t like. These provisions are antithetical to democracy and must be opposed at every chance. Moreover, Georgia should not be rewarded financially for passing such discriminatory laws. No state should.
Major League Baseball has a chance to send a strong message to the State of Georgia that these new restrictive laws are completely unacceptable. The All-Star Game is MLB’s summer showcase, and it should decline to showcase a state – any state, for that matter – that suppresses the vote of its minority residents. The Major League Baseball Players Union (MLBPA) has already indicated that it is ready to discuss moving the All-Star Game. Given that roughly 40 percent of MLB players are black or brown, it is no surprise that the MLBPA would take the lead on this issue.
So what has Major League Baseball said about this issue? As of writing, it has said nothing. I find that incredibly disappointing. Now I know that MLB always – always – takes its time to address any controversial issue. Remember how long it took MLB to address the protests over racism and racial intolerance after the murder of George Floyd? It said nothing until black players started calling out the league for its slow response. The league then embraced the Black Lives Matter movement and showcased their efforts for equality over the remainder of the 2020 season. Over the winter, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred magnanimously declared that the Negro Leagues should be given “Major League Status” and the statistics would count in the MLB record book. This was supposed to be an effort to redress an historic injustice. If MLB can take these proactive measures to support racial equality in 2020, then it must absolutely do so again in 2021.
If MLB truly wants to embrace racial equality, wants to lean into its role as the sport that shattered the color barrier, or wants to honor Atlanta legend and civil rights hero Henry Aaron in the year of his death, it should announce immediately that the 2021 All-Star Game is being moved elsewhere, and that the league will consider any state that has either enacted, or is even considering, new voter suppression laws to be ineligible to host any special MLB event. This would seem like a very easy decision, right? I question, though, whether Commissioner Rob Manfred has the intestinal fortitude to take this very necessary step to strip Atlanta of the All-Star Game. As we all know, the Commissioner of Baseball works for the owners. The pre-dominantly white and conservative owners. The owners who never miss a chance to make a buck, no matter how damaging the long-term effects might be on the sport of Baseball. So it comes down to whether MLB wants to do the right thing, or whether it wants to make a buck. If MLB chooses the latter, its efforts at promoting racial equality in 2020 will be for naught.
Should MLB not make this announcement by Jackie Robinson Day on April 15 – what date could be more symbolic? – then the Players Association should unilaterally announce on that date that it will boycott the game until it is moved. There is no game without the players, full stop. Player power has pushed other leagues to make tough decisions to move special events due to discriminatory laws. If MLB cannot make the morally-correct decision on its own to move the All-Star Game from Georgia, the home of Jim Crow 2.0, then the league will deserve the black eye that is coming to it.
It is time to walk the walk Commissioner Manfred. Move the All-Star Game from Atlanta now.