Those who feel professional sports leagues should stay out of politics and are disturbed by Major League Baseball's decision to pull this year's All-Star Game and draft out of Atlanta, get over it and open up your history books.
In 1991, the NFL pulled the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix after Arizonans voted against making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday.
In 2016, the NBA pulled the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, N.C., because of the so-called "bathroom bill," which restricted access for transgender people.
On Friday, MLB rocked the sports world by deciding it will move this summer's All-Star Game and draft from Atlanta because of a controversial Georgia law that many believe impacts Black voters negatively.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has stepped toward the fire with a decision that will not be popular with many baseball fans or politicians. Almost immediately, there was strong blowback from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who signed the bill into law, as well as suggestions from Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas that MLB's antitrust exemption should be removed.
Those things happen when making a stand, but Manfred appears ready to deal with the consequences while backing players who believe that Black Georgians are facing voter suppression.
Some provisions of the law, called SB202, seem helpful, such as increased early voting access and longer polling hours. But other provisions — such as the reduction in dropboxes, the power to suspend election officials and toughened identification process for those seeking absentee ballots — have come under fire for potentially affecting Black voters more than any other group. As a result, several lawsuits have been filed challenging the law.
And many are troubled by what could be next. As of March 24, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, 361 voting bills "with restrictive provisions" have been introduced in 47 states since the last election cycle. Solutions are being thrown at a problem many don't feel exists, a result of President Donald Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud from the November election that were never proven. Black voters are wondering if Jim Crow has emerged from a time machine.
Atlanta also is the home of the WNBA's Dream. Former co-owner Kelly Loeffler criticized the Black Lives Matter movement, drawing backlash from players on her own team and across the league. Loeffler, also a Republican Georgia senator, went on to lose her re-election campaign to Rev. Raphael Warnock, and she sold her stake in the team in January. It was a checkpoint along Georgia's path to this attempt at voter reform.
MLB is not usually on the front lines of political causes. But last season the league supported its players who supported the BLM movement, and many players took a knee during the national anthem. And Manfred is listening to them again.
Choosing to hold the game in Atlanta in the middle of this controversy was potentially perilous as well. There was the likelihood of players boycotting the game. Sponsors Delta and Coca-Cola, already big players in Atlanta, have spoken out against the law, and more corporate pressure is possible. SB202 would have dominated All-Star week — and it still might, wherever All-Star week is held.
Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate who organized a prolific turnout of Black voters in November, has argued against boycotts and corporate pressure, concerned about the collateral damage such actions could cause. The Atlanta area stands to lose nine figures in revenue with the All-Star Game headed elsewhere — and that will affect every socio-economic level there. So there are a lot of tentacles here.
Any way you look at it, MLB was making a statement by holding the game at the Braves' Truist Park or moving it elsewhere. Manfred chose to move the game, releasing a statement saying MLB "opposes restrictions to the ballot box."
Will his bold decision lead to change? Arizona eventually voted for the King holiday in 1992 and was awarded the 1996 Super Bowl. North Carolina partly repealed its "bathroom bill," and the 2019 NBA All-Star Game was awarded there. With Kemp in office, change in Georgia might come later than sooner.
Just keep this in mind as we continue through unprecedented times in sports and politics:
Baseball has a pace-of-play problem.
Baseball also has a lack-of-action problem.
As of Friday, baseball no longer has a "take action" problem.