Major League Baseball said Friday it would move its All-Star Game from Atlanta this year in protest of Georgia’s new restrictive voting bill – a sports organization’s first significant move amid an increasing corporate response to Republican law. .
Just a day after the start of the 2021 season, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the annual game would move to a location yet to be determined due to newly signed Georgian legislation.
The league “fundamentally supports the right to vote for all Americans and opposes restrictions on the ballot box,” Manfred said, adding that “fair access to votes continues to enjoy the unwavering support of our game.”
It is the latest high-profile response to new legislation signed last month by Republican Governor of Georgia Brian Kemp that restricts early voting and postal voting provisions that critics say disproportionately target black voters. It is one of more than 300 bills introduced by state legislators in the US this year that contain restrictions on voting rights, according to the Brennan Center, an impartial law and policy institution.
Kemp said Friday that the MLB “succumbed to fear, political opportunism and liberal lies,” calling the decision to relocate the All-Star Game “an attack on our state.”
Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat in Georgia, called the MLB decision an “unfortunate consequence” of what he described as an attempt by a few politicians to maintain power at the expense of Georgia voters.
“I hope that companies, athletes and entertainers can protest this law, not by leaving Georgia, but by coming here and fighting voter oppression head-on and hand-in-hand with the community,” he said.
The Atlanta Braves, the MLB franchise whose facilities are said to have hosted this year’s game, said in a statement on Twitter that the move was “neither our decision nor our recommendation” and that “unfortunately companies, employees and fans. in Georgia are the victims of this decision ”.
On Wednesday, dozens of senior black executives from across the US signed a public letter urging corporate America to oppose Georgian law, stating that “the new law and similar laws are both undemocratic and un-American, and that they being wrong”.
Since that letter was published, chief executives of Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, two of Atlanta’s largest companies, as well as dozens of others, including Uber, Salesforce and PayPal, have publicly disapproved of the legislation.
MLB’s move underscores the increase in civic engagement by sports organizations, especially in the past year when the US faced racial injustice. In the wake of protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, the National Football League Commissioner apologized for not interacting with players who previously protested police brutality, such as Colin Kaepernick.
Various leagues, including the NFL, MLB, and the National Basketball Association, have incorporated Black Lives Matter branding in their stadiums and player equipment to varying degrees in recent months.
Moving the MLB All-Star Game is likely to have a material impact on Georgia’s economy. The annual game, a midsummer clash between the best players in each of the league’s two divisions, regularly results in an extra $ 60 million or more to the host city treasury, according to Baseball Almanac.
It is not the first time that a professional sport has taken a high-profile game out of political considerations. In 2016, the NBA decided to move its own All-Star Game out of Charlotte, North Carolina, in opposition to a bill in that state that limited protections from discrimination for the LGBTQ community.
A partial repeal of that bill, colloquially known as the “ bathroom bill, ” paved the way for a compromise between the league and local authorities, and the contest returned to Charlotte in 2019.
This year’s MLB All-Star Game would take on special significance in Atlanta after the death of civil rights icon and Atlanta Braves star Hank Aaron, although Manfred said commemorative events in his honor remain on track wherever the game is played.
Additional reporting by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in New York and Lauren Fedor in Washington