Never one to dive into controversy, when asked Thursday about the potential of Atlanta losing the 2021 All-Star Game, the Braves Freddie Freeman – reigning National League MVP and the most visible member of a team in a state swirling with controversy over Georgia’s sweeping elections bill – remarked “why not use what we already have here as a platform in the city and state that it has been passed through?”
That platform. That game. That moment, are now gone.
MLB announced Friday that the All-Star Game and draft are moving out of Atlanta and Truist Park, with commissioner Rob Manfred saying “I have determined the best way to demonstrate our value as a sport is relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft.
“MLB fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”
No matter your politics and how the viewpoint you take on the bill, which Democrats and advocacy groups say affects minorities, this is a major blow to the Braves, Atlanta and Georgia with the nation still working itself out of the economic gut-punch of the pandemic. Hosting the All-Star Game wasn’t going to solve everything, but per a memo from Cobb County Chief Financial Officer William Volckmann, local taxpayers would pay $2 million in expenses to host the game, but there was the potential of $37 to $190 million in economic impact. To be more concrete, the 2019 game brought $65 million to Cleveland, and with the Braves saying this week they would be at 50 percent capacity by their April 23 homestand and with some projections it could be at 100 percent by the Midsummer Classic, it would likely have surpassed the return from two years ago.
But whatever figures you want to use, losing the event is a dire blow.
It’s a blow to those businesses in and around The Battery and Truist Park that were banking on the windfall, hotels, Uber drives, restaurants, and on and on. It’s a blow to the fans, it’s a blow to the Braves.
There’s no way to see this as anything but a win for MLB, and more to the point, it’s a win for Manfred. He has taken his share of criticism amid the lack of penalties for players amid the Astros cheating scandal, calling the World Series trophy “a piece of metal” and his handling of getting baseball on track before last season’s pandemic-shortened schedule.
In the moments after announcing the All-Star Game’s move, he had the likes of Magic Johnson tweeting “I want to applaud and extend a thank you to @MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred for moving the All Star Game out of Georgia following the Governor’s signing of the new restrictive voting law. Way to be a leader and take a strong stance!” LeBron James following with “Proud to call myself a part of the @mlb family today.”
The White Sox’s Tim Anderson, one of the most outspoken and visible black players in the game today simply wrote “Good move.”
I want to applaud and extend a thank you to @MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred for moving the All Star Game out of Georgia following the Governor’s signing of the new restrictive voting law. Way to be a leader and take a strong stance!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 2, 2021
Good move— S E V E N (@TimAnderson7) April 2, 2021
In the court of public opinion, Manfred and MLB made the move they needed to, and the only one they could before staging what would stand to be the biggest North American sporting event with a sizable crowd in a state whose voting results were among the most hotly contested of the past presidential election.
But there are far more losers than winners in this situation and it may not be over.
“Just as elections have consequences, so do the actions of those who are elected,” Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said on Twitter. “Unfortunately, the removal of the @MLB All Star game from GA is likely the 1st of many dominoes to fall, until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed.”
Just as elections have consequences, so do the actions of those who are elected. Unfortunately, the removal of the @MLB All Star game from GA is likely the 1st of many dominoes to fall, until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed.— Keisha Lance Bottoms (@KeishaBottoms) April 2, 2021
Activists are calling for boycotts of companies headquartered in Georgia, Coca-Cola and Delta’s CEO have spoke out against it, and it’s not hard to imagine the SEC following baseball’s lead with its football championship game. What of the movie productions that have called the Peach State home?
MLB has yet to announce where the All-Star Game will relocate to, and with next year’s game already set for Los Angeles – which was to be the site of the 2020 game – the earliest Atlanta could get another date would be 2023. But that’s a pipe dream for now. Granted, pressure from corporate and entertainment entities led to North Carolina flipping its “bathroom bill,” but even it this all has the same outcome and Atlanta and the Braves get back on for a future date, being denied this game, this year in particular hurts.
There’s a profound sadness that comes with Atlanta losing this moment mere months after Hank Aaron, whose life was a testament to equality and overcoming injustices, has passed. In its statement, MLB said it will “continue with our plans to celebrate the memory of Hank Aaron during this season’s All-Star festivities.”
It makes it that much worse that the current state of politics in the state where Aaron left his legacy amid the Civil Rights Movement will keep that celebration from happening in the home of the franchise he came to define.
The Braves released a statement of their own Friday, saying “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. 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. Our city has always been known as a uniter in divided times and we will miss the opportunity to address issues that are important to our community.
Unfortunately, businesses, employees, and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision.
We will continue to support the community legacy projects which have been planned and are in process.”
Georgia, a political lightning rod for months, is right back there again, and now it has cost itself what should have been a moment in the spotlight, a culmination of baseball’s biggest stars and a tribute to one of the greatest to ever play that game.
Freeman was right, his words echoed by the Braves in their statement. The city and the state will be part of a platform during this year’s All-Star Game, wherever it’s played, and absolutely none of it is for the positive.