On Friday afternoon, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the 2021 All-Star Game and MLB Draft would not be held in Georgia in response to recently-passed state legislation affecting elections. It is a frankly astonishing move, and is worthy of our praise.
To be clear, this article is not a place to debate the merits of said Georgia law. Sources more professional than this site have already read through it and confirmed that, yes, it does indeed make it harder for many Georgia voters to cast their ballots, particularly Black voters. Most egregiously, handing out food and water to individuals who are waiting in line to vote has become a crime. The law is almost certainly a response to the 2020 election by the state’s Republican legislature doing their very damnedest to prevent Democrats from winning statewide elections again. That is plainly and clearly wrong. What was not clear, though, was how businesses and organizations with stakes in Georgia would respond to this legislation.
Playing the All-Star Game in Atlanta, and this one in particular, was a big deal for all parties involved. For the Braves, it was their best chance to showcase their new(ish) home at Truist Park to a truly national audience on a night when theirs is the only game in town. For the Atlanta area, it would bring money to the local economy and promote their status as a power player on the national stage. For MLB, it would put the game’s best and brightest stars on display, as all All-Star Games do. And, completely by accident, it turned into an opportunity to feature something more, something bigger than baseball.
Atlanta is one of the birthplaces of the Civil Rights Movement and was home to Henry Aaron, the Braves legend who passed away during the offseason. You might remember that 2020 turned out to be a very turbulent year for the United States, with the country putting a renewed focus on race and equality. MLB has frequently led with empty promises to honor its much-touted civil rights history, but this was shaping up to be a can’t-miss opportunity: holding their biggest single event of the year in a city with strong ties to both the late home run king and civil rights, against the backdrop of a shaken nation? Yeah, that’ll do. The serendipity of the moment was simply too good to be true.
And then, suddenly, it was too good to be true once the legislature had its say. With the stroke of a pen, Georgia’s government dared investors and employers to say something about it. Many eventually came around to speak out against it, ranging from international companies with Georgia offices, such as Microsoft, to local heavyweights, like Coca-Cola and Delta, all decrying the law (the latter earning a specifically-targeted piece of legislation from that same statehouse to revoke a tax exemption for their troubles). But MLB’s position and options were less clear.
It’s worth remembering that leagues have moved big games in reaction to political events before. The NFL moved the 1993 Super Bowl out of Arizona over their voters not recognizing Martin Luther King Day, and North Carolina lost the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and several NCAA championship events following the passage of their notorious “bathroom bill” targeting LGBTQ+ individuals. But those decisions were made in different circumstances: MLB has way less time to figure out new logistics than in other instances, and the current political environment is very different, especially considering that Georgia is far from the only state that considered overhauling their voting laws. Had the All-Star Game stayed put in Atlanta, it would have been a defensible decision, although MLB would likely have faced boycotts of the game by prominent players.
This makes it all the more surprising that Commissioner Manfred did the right thing. Moving the game was undoubtedly the more difficult option, and while MLBPA Director Tony Clark’s public comments that the matter would be under consideration may have greased the wheels, the decision was Manfred’s alone. This decision took a lot of courage and deserves our support, which is particularly surprising given Manfred’s history of, well, seemingly doing his best at all times to undermine the things that fans love about baseball. But give credit where it is due: the Commissioner listened to players, made a tough decision, and issued a public statement proclaiming his league’s proud support for the voting rights of all Americans:
It’s hard to say what happens next. The game’s new location has not yet been announced, but there are certain locations that are likely ruled out given that their legislatures are embarking on similar paths to Georgia’s, like Texas. It also raises the question of whether league-wide events can only be held in states with certain political leanings, given how polarized support for this kind of legislation is along partisan lines. And you can’t blame any Braves fans or the Atlanta-area residents who were looking forward to attending the game in their hometown and are now deeply disappointed. No sympathy should be reserved for the Braves themselves, though, who put out an asinine statement about how they are the true victims of MLB’s decision after nothing but silence on the actual legislation. Maybe now they’ll have to move their memorials of Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro to more prominent positions on their uniforms since their All-Star Game patches will presumably be removed and never seen again.
Still, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a truly historic and audacious decision from a man usually known for his lack of fortitude. Rob Manfred faced a curveball, and, for once, knocked it out of the park.