Mark Bradley: All-Star Game’s exit is a significant loss for Georgia

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Truist Park on April 1, 2020, in Atlanta. - Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS

ATLANTA —You know, actions do have consequences. Eight days after the Legislature passed and the governor signed a law that our nation’s president described as “Jim Crow on steroids,” the state of Georgia has suffered a significant loss. MLB has pulled its All-Star Game, which was set for July 13 and from which Cobb County was expecting an economic jolt, from Truist Park.

From a statement released by MLB on Friday afternoon, this was Commissioner Rob Manfred: “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.” (The latter was scheduled to be held here in conjunction with the ASG.) In the same statement, Manfred said: “We will continue with our plans to celebrate the life of Hank Aaron during this season’s All-Star festivities.”

Just not in the city Aaron called home. Yikes.

You could feel this coming since … oh, last week. Asked at 9 a.m. Friday if he was concerned about the possibility of losing the All-Star game, a prominent Braves employee said he was indeed. Six hours later, the ASG was gone. Understand: MLB has no gripe with the Braves or Cobb County or Truist Park; its beef is with the state of Georgia, which decided it needed to tighten its voting regulations.

Not coincidentally, the state of Georgia has a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature. Not coincidentally, the state of Georgia just picked a Democrat over a Republican in the presidential race and two Democrats over two Republicans in the subsequent Senate runoffs. What better time to shore up those election laws, huh?

You could feel this coming. Tony Clark, head of the MLB players’ union, said his membership needed to discuss whether it wanted to play an All-Star Game in a state that would enact such a law. Lawsuits have been filed. Delta’s CEO called the law “unacceptable” and “based on a lie.” Coca-Cola’s CEO called it “wrong” and “a step backwards.” Bishop Reginald T. Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church announced a boycott of Delta, Coke and Home Depot.

Said Jackson, speaking to Politico: “I consider Delta my airline. So I really don’t want to boycott Delta. But if Delta can’t support me, there is no need for me to continue to support Delta. I’m going to have to start flying United.”

The pressure to do something bubbled up so quickly that MLB, among the great corporate ditherers, was impelled to move quickly. We could count on one finger the number of issues on which baseball has taken the lead, and the exact nature of that one escapes me. We’ll need a second finger now. MLB and Manfred took a stand and pulled the plug. Good for them.

The Braves likewise released a statement, and they didn’t, to borrow from Smokey Robinson, second that emotion. “The Atlanta Braves are deeply disappointed by the decision of Major League Baseball to move its 2021 All-Star Game. 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.”

Then: “The Braves’ organization will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities, and we had hoped our city could use this event as a platform to enhance the discussion … Unfortunately, businesses, employees and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision.”

Our elected representatives made a choice. That’s their prerogative. It’s the prerogative of others to differ. It’s the prerogative of corporate entities to work hard not to alienate their customers because of politics. From Stacey Abrams’ statement Friday: “Republicans who passed and defended Senate Bill 202 did so knowing the economic risks to our state.”

We’ve seen the NFL remove a Super Bowl from Arizona because of that state’s reluctance to recognize the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a holiday. We saw Charlotte lose an NBA All-Star Game and Greensboro an NCAA subregional due to House Bill 2, which was known as the Bathroom Bill, which was repealed less than a month after Duke lost to South Carolina in a Round 2 game played in Greenville, S.C. The Palmetto State had itself lost sporting events until it ceased flying the Confederate flag.

For MLB, the voting issue is particularly thorny. Atlanta is where Aaron, who died Jan. 22, played and broke Babe Ruth’s famous record. Atlanta was the home of Rep. John Lewis, who died last summer, not to mention the home of MLK. Atlanta is as diverse a city as there is. The Braves’ decision to leave downtown for Cobb was hailed by some as another case of white flight. (The Braves have always rejected that, saying they were moving closer to their customers. Also: They found a place willing to help build them a ballpark.)

As of July 2020, only 7.8% of MLB’s players were Black. By way of contrast, 70% of NFL players and 74.2% of NBA players are Black. The absolute last thing MLB wanted was to have protestors using the Midsummer Classic as a platform. In removing that platform, the sport leaves Georgia legislators to ask: “Is this what we wanted?”

Sometimes actions have unintended consequences. Maybe this is one. Really, though: What did legislators think would happen? How could they NOT see this coming?