Major League Baseball will move its All-Star Game out of Atlanta after the state of Georgia passed voting bills that will disproportionately affect citizens of color, an action that commissioner Rob Manfred on Friday said is the “best way to demonstrate our values as a sport.”
MLB’s removal of one of its jewel events – which this year will include the draft for the first time – comes after a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic and the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer caused the sports industry to reconsider its influence within society.
That recalibration was most felt in Georgia, where members of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream organized against one of its owners, former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and urged Georgians to exercise their right to vote.
By January, control of the U.S. Senate flipped to Democrats after Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won runoff elections, with Warnock defeating Loeffler.
On March 26, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation passed by both state houses a Republican-led overhaul of state elections, rolling back voting by mail and other absentee balloting efforts and even banning the distribution of food and water to those standing in line to vote.
President Joe Biden called the bill “sick” and “un-American” and on March 31 told ESPN he would support MLB moving its Midsummer Classic out of Atlanta.
Just more than three months before its stars were to gather July 13 for the 91st All-Star Game, Manfred did just that.
“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,” Manfred said in a statement.
“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. Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”
“We will continue with our plans to celebrate the memory of Hank Aaron during this season’s All-Star festivities. In addition, MLB’s planned investments to support local communities in Atlanta as part of our All-Star Legacy Projects will move forward. We are finalizing a new host city and details about these events will be announced shortly.”
In making a stand against discrimination, MLB joins the NBA – which moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte due to state legislation discriminating against transgender community – and the NFL, which moved the 1993 Super Bowl out of Arizona after the state refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day as a holiday, in organizations hitting municipalities in their pocketbook.
MLB did not specify to which city it’d relocate the All-Star Game, which due to its fixed date and lone spot on the sporting calendar is its biggest corporate event of the year. Atlanta was awarded this game on May 30, 2019, a standard “reward” from the league to celebrate the opening of a new stadium.
Similarly, Los Angeles was awarded the 2020 All-Star Game after extensive renovations to Dodger Stadium; that game was cancelled due to the pandemic and the Dodgers will instead host the 2022 game.
It is a three-day festival of baseball that includes the July 11 Futures Game, July 12 Home Run Derby and dozens of fan-focused events and significant corporate glad-handing. This year’s game was to honor Braves legend Hank Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record in 1974 and remains an American icon; Aaron died Jan. 22 at age 86.
In this instance, MLB chose immediate action first and logistics later, and figures to choose its new site based on a combination of fan convenience and a state not actively seeking to pass voting restriction bills similar to Georgia’s.
That would seem to rule out Texas, which opened its doors to the 2020 National League Championship Series and World Series, as Arlington’s Globe Life Field hosted the first MLB games to host fans since the start of the pandemic. Texas’ state senate on Thursday passed Bill 7 in a party line vote, giving it a path to approval under Gov. Greg Abbott, and the bill has since come under criticism from corporate entities such as Dallas-based American Airlines.