MAKE no mistake. A decision was made recently that will have ramifications globally for sport and politics.

Major League Baseball recently took the decision to withdraw the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta, Georgia. The All-Star Game is an annual showcase of the sport, featuring the best players from the National and American Leagues.

The reason? As an act of protest opposing Georgia’s new restrictive voting laws. As it happens, it coincides with the trial of the police officers charged with the murder of George Floyd a year ago.

The “Midsummer Classic” was due to happen on July 13th at Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves. It was to partner other festivities including the annual MLB draft.

“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,” an introspective Commissioner Robert D. Manfred stated.

“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,” he concluded.

Manfred continued with further commentary: “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box. In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future where 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.”

Georgia Republicans passed restrictive changes to the state election process last month. The new law adds a host of restrictions, including voter identification for absentee ballots, empowers state officials to take over local elections boards, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime to approach voters to give them food or water as they wait in line.

In essence, it gives the legislature greater control over how the election process is conducted.

Unsurprisingly, Democrats and voting rights advocates have voiced their opposition to the changes, believing it will “disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color.”

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill into law immediately, calling it “common sense” legislation while aligning himself with former President Donald Trump in remarks promoting the bill. RIL 2, 202102:27

MLB is “finalizing a new host city and details about these events will be announced shortly,” Manfred added. This was recently decided to be Denver’s Coors field.

Ironically, the commissioner said All-Star Game festivities would still include tributes to Henry Aaron, the legendary Braves slugger who died earlier this year at age 86.

For their part, the Braves reportedly were “deeply disappointed” by the MLB action and had hoped the All-Star Game would serve as a vehicle to highlight the importance of voting rights.

“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,” stated a representative.

“The Braves organization will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities and we had had hoped our city could use this event as a platform to enhance the discussion.”

The MLB decision has divided politics, sporting organisations, social morals and the general fan.

But it is a portent of things to come.

Governor Kemp defended the state’s voter restrictions and accused the MLB of succumbing to “fear” and “political opportunism.”

“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,” he stated emphatically.

“If the left doesn’t agree with you, facts and the truth do not matter.”

Democrat Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in Cobb County, where Truist Park is located, forewarned her constituents that MLB’s move will likely be the first “of many dominoes to fall, until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed.” She believes further boycotts will follow.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff is a Democrat who represents Georgia. He said that the state’s Republican Party is out of control and that Georgia is “hemorrhaging business and jobs because of their disastrous new Jim Crow voting law.”

“The Governor and the legislature are deliberately making it harder for Black voters to vote,” Ossoff added. “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.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from nearby Florida, criticised the MLB for disintegrating under public pressure.

“Why are we still listening to these woke corporate hypocrites on taxes regulations & anti-trust?” Rubio tweeted.

President Joe Biden, perhaps unsurprisingly, supported the league’s decision to move the All-Star Game out of Georgia to protest the new law.

“The President has made his concerns about the bill passed in Georgia clear, given its extreme provisions that impact the ability of so many citizens to cast their votes,” said a White House official. “He said earlier this week that if the decision was made by Major League Baseball to move the All-Star game, he would certainly support that decision – and now that MLB has made that choice, he certainly does.”

MLB’s action was also in adherence with Georgia-based companies Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines who collectively condemned the state’s new laws.

A defiant Kemp responded, “Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola and Delta may be scared of Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden and the left, but I am not.”

Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House of Representatives minority leader, was “disappointed” that MLB officials removed the All-Star Game from Atlanta but is “proud of their stance on voting rights.”

Georgia Republicans “traded economic opportunity for suppression,” said Abrams, who is credited with voter-drive efforts that delivered the Peach State to Biden and two Democrats to the US Senate.

“As I have stated, I respect boycotts, although I don’t want to see Georgia families hurt by lost events and jobs,” she added. “Georgians targeted by voter suppression will be hurt as opportunities go to other states. We should not abandon the victims of GOP malice and lies — we must stand together.”

In addition, The Players Alliance issued a statement in support of the decision, saying: “We want to make our voice heard loud and clear in our opposition of the recent Georgia legislation that not only disproportionately disenfranchises the Black community, but also paves the way for other states to pass similarly harmful laws based largely on widespread falsehoods and disinformation.

“While we will support those in need in whichever city the game is ultimately relocated to, we will also uphold our commitment to those Georgians we’ve already planned to serve. We will use our voice, our platform, and our partnerships now more than ever to create real, tangible change for the Black community to stand up for every American’s right to vote.

“We will not be silenced. We won’t back down in the fight for racial equity. We will never stop breaking barriers to the ballot box.”

The MLB’s decision is also likely to have hefty financial ramifications for the state of Georgia.

The “estimated lost economic impact” caused by the relocation is more than $100 million, according to Holly Quinlan, president and CEO of Hobb Travel and Tourism.

This is a further blow to an industry that has already been crippled by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision of a sporting organisation to withdraw its showpiece event as an act of opposition to political processes is not new.

The MLB has joined the NBA which previously moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte due to state legislation discriminating against the transgender community.

The NFL, in 1993, moved the Super Bowl from Arizona after the state refused to recognise Martin Luther King Day as a holiday.

Moreover, to understand the MLB’s decision, it is important to put it into historical context.

The MLB banned Black players from playing the national game for generations, until Jackie Robinson’s 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. It had its inaugural Black field manager in 1975 with Frank Robinson at Cleveland.

It only began counting the records of 3,400 players of the Negro Leagues because of the racist policy in December 2020.

MLB had its first female general manager when Kim Ng – an Asian-American with over 30 years’ experience – joined the Miami Marlins in 2020.

But only after she was hired by Derek Jeter, the only Black CEO in the major leagues.

Finally, the MLB has two franchises with discriminatory names in the current climate. The Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians. Like the NFL, there is increasing pressure to change them. Or else.

So there it is. We live in turbulent times. Political correctness, woke culture, cancel culture, identity politics, civil rights, left and right wing extremism.

But what does sport have to do with politics? What is expected from sporting codes, organisations, players, owners and administrators?

The expectation, it seems, is to put moral obligations above those of the ordinary fan. Just who is entitled and empowered to make that decision is another matter.

Not just to oppose verbally, but by taking action. Action that is designed to humiliate, embarrass, withdraw unconditional support. To cause emotional, psychological and financial pain.

At its extreme, to negate, destroy and erase from existence.

Until whatever the issue is, has been reversed. Through passive force.

Is this really the role we want sport to take on?

Ludo Aequitas – Equality Through Sport

 

Image via nytimes.com

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