Commentary: Corporate America speaks out against Georgia’s voting law. MLB has not.
Opening day is upon us, and with it the sounds of the game: the crack of the bat, the thud of a fastball slamming into a glove, the joy of fans streaming back into the ballpark.
From the commissioner’s office, however, there is only the sound of silence.
The movement that started here a week ago has blossomed into a national campaign: If Georgia persists in codifying voter suppression into state law, Major League Baseball should move this year’s All-Star game out of Atlanta.
“I would strongly support them doing that,” President Biden told ESPN Wednesday night.
Make no mistake: Behind-the-scenes discussions are taking place, with the commissioner’s office and team owners, and with the players’ union and its players. In Cobb County, where the game would be played, the chairwoman of the county commission said she would speak with union chief Tony Clark.
Dave Roberts, the manager of the World Series champion Dodgers, said he would consider turning down the honor of managing the National League team if the game were not moved.
Rob Manfred, the commissioner, spoke for the first time on the issue late Wednesday, telling the Associated Press he had talked with Clark about the possibility of moving the game.
“There will be more substantive conversations about that,” Manfred said. “I am talking to various constituencies within the game, and I’m just not going beyond that in terms of what I would consider or not consider.”
The Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, who is Black and Asian American, says he’d consider declining to manage the NL team after Georgia adopts law making it harder to vote.
What Manfred has not said publicly is whether MLB objects to the new Georgia law.
With each passing day, whatever Manfred eventually announces could appear more like a political calculation than a principled stand.
Cautious corporate deliberation titled toward action Wednesday, when six dozen executives signed a full-page New York Times ad entitled in part: “Georgia is Backtracking on the Hard-Won Right to Vote.”
Within hours, the chief executives of Coca-Cola and Delta — both headquartered in Atlanta — had blasted the new law as “unacceptable.”
The Delta chief wrote an employee memo that included this: “The bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives. That is wrong.
“The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections.”
Do the right thing? It is not always easy to determine the right thing.
In this case, however, it is. Supporting social justice means more than stenciling “BLM” on the back of the pitcher’s mound and donating $10 million to the Players’ Alliance to support initiatives designed to increase Black participation in baseball.
Manfred works for the owners. The owners could decide to keep the game in Atlanta, betting the controversy would blow over by the time the game is played in July, or at least that the law would be tied up in court.
That is basically what MLB did in 2011, amid calls to move the All-Star game from Phoenix. Arizona had adopted a so-called “show me your papers” law that required police officers to investigate the status of anyone stopped and suspected of being in the country illegally. The players’ union denounced the law, but the league did not move the All-Star game.
If MLB decides to keep this year’s game in Atlanta, Manfred should step up and own it. When LeBron James led a chorus of NBA players criticizing that league for holding an All-Star game in the middle of a raging pandemic, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was up front about it: We did it for TV, and for exposure to our fan base at a time arenas remained largely closed to fans.
The NBA also announced it would donate more than $2.5 million to historically Black colleges and universities, which of course it could have done anyway. If MLB opts to donate to advocacy groups for voting rights, the league should do so in concert with moving the All-Star game, not instead of it.
Let us dispense with the notion that the All-Star game provides the host city with an economic windfall. When a county official this month said the game would generate up to $190 million in economic impact, the county said the estimate came from the Braves and the league, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Braves said, nope, didn’t come from us. The league said, no, didn’t come from us.
After the 2014 All-Star game in Minneapolis, the Star Tribune reported, the touted $75 million in projected economic impact turned out to be about $21 million in reality.
If Georgia persists in pursuing laws that will make it harder to vote, and disproportionately so for Black communities, MLB should move the 2021 All-Star game out of Atlanta.
Kennesaw (Ga.) State economics professor J.C. Bradbury cited a 2010 study that found an All-Star game had “no significant impact on local sales tax revenues” because most economic activity is generated by locals who spend dollars on All-Star festivities instead of something else in town.
Here’s the point: Atlanta would not be financially harmed if MLB moves the game. It would be a grand and meaningful gesture, a booming cry for change that would not harm the lives of ordinary Georgians.
And, in the interest of fairness and whatever money there is to be made, MLB would promise to return the game to Atlanta if and when the law is rescinded.
For now, move the game to Buffalo, in appreciation for the city accommodating the homeless Toronto Blue Jays on short notice last summer and, possibly, again this summer. This would be an All-Star game on short notice, without compelling any current MLB city to sacrifice years of planning in a rush to hold a game this year.
Manfred understandably needs some time to canvass owners, build consensus and reach agreement with Buffalo or any other alternate site. That makes the timing perfect: On April 15, when MLB celebrates Jackie Robinson Day, the league can meaningfully honor its civil rights heritage by announcing the 2021 All-Star game will be moved out of Atlanta.
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