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Atlanta losing the 2021 All-Star Game is awful, but it’s the right decision for MLB

The COVID-19 pandemic robbed Atlanta baseball fans of the All-Star Game in 2020. In 2021, local government ended up being the culprit.

Fans Pay Tribute After Death Of MLB Hall Of Famer Hank Aaron Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

I’m going to start this off by saying the obvious when it comes to Major League Baseball’s decision to move both the 2021 MLB All-Star Game and the MLB Draft out of Atlanta: It sucks. It really sucks. With the COVID-19 vaccination effort going strong across the country and MLB getting into the swing of a full season for the first time since 2019, the All-Star Game festivities was part of a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. I haven’t had an opportunity to enjoy a baseball All-Star Game of any sort, so I was really looking forward to hanging around the ballpark in Cobb County for the other events surrounding the game and the game, itself. The pandemic cheated us fans out of an All-Star Game last year, so it seemed like things would go full speed ahead this year.

Then, as usual for the past few years here in Georgia, politics happened. To sum everything up in a tidy manner, the Republican Party in Georgia figured that something had to be fishy when both the 2020 Presidential Election and the two Senate Runoff Elections from a few months ago went in favor of the Democratic Party. In the wake of a nasty fallout following the election, the currently-in-power Republican Party decided to put their own spin on election reform by passing a bill that arguably did the exact opposite of election reform. The outcry was swift and it eventually resulted in local corporations such as Delta, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft (among many others) to express statements that were against the bill. The corporate response is what brought MLB into the situation, since the All-Star Game was being held here in Georgia.

Now, there is precedent in other sports when it comes to marquee events being relocated as a result of political missteps from the local government. In the NFL, Arizona lost out on hosting Super Bowl XXVII in January 1993 because its state government refused to acknowledge Martin Luther King Day as a holiday. In the NBA, North Carolina lost the 2017 NBA All-Star Game when its state government passed a bill that included a provision that was highly discriminatory against people in the LGBT community. This one in particular was especially interesting since the Charlotte Hornets themselves actually declared that they were in favor of that year’s event being moved out of North Carolina as a direct result of House Bill 2. Georgia has now joined this ignominious club after the local government passed this new voting law.

It’s also interesting to note what happened in the aftermath of the relocations that came before the 2021 MLB All-Star Game’s relocation. After declaring that Dr. Martin Luther King didn’t deserve a holiday back in 1987, then-Governor of Arizona Evan Mecham basically invited a maelstrom of protest and boycotts into the state. The governor himself continued to spend time living at the center of controversy and wound up getting impeached and removed from office after barely spending a year in power. MLK Day was eventually recognized as a holiday in Arizona in 1992, the NFL responded the very next year by giving Tempe, Arizona the rights to host Super Bowl XXX, and they finally got to host the big game in January of 1996.

When it comes to Charlotte, I’ve already mentioned that things were so bad when it came to that bill that even the team itself was in favor of not hosting the All-Star Game while that law was in place. The NCAA also removed its championship events from the state as part of the backlash against the bill, so this wasn’t just confined to the NBA. Then-Governor Pat McCrory stuck by the bill as he was up for re-election that year. McCrory lost, and the new Governor proceeded to pass a partial repeal of the bill. Following the partial repeal (which upset everybody involved), the NBA eventually announced that their All-Star Game would be held in Charlottte in 2019.

So with memories of the past in mind, I’d imagine that the only way that we’re going to see the MLB All-Star Game finally make its return to Atlanta is if some sort of action is taken to either repeal or partially repeal SB 202. Precedent seems to indicate that this is going to come from the Governor’s successor, since neither Even Meacham or Pat McCrory were in power to see their events return to their states. If those two controversies are any indication of how things are going to go for Brian Kemp, then I’d say that both he and this bill probably aren’t going to be staying around for the long haul. That’s all the speculation I’ll do in that department, since I’m a baseball blogger and not a political pundit of any sort.

Meanwhile, the reaction from The Players Alliance is probably the one that should be receiving the most attention. The collective of over 150 Black professional baseball players — which includes Touki Toussaint — released a statement that was strongly in favor of the All-Star Game being moved from the state of Georgia. Being that this bill was seemingly targeted to disproportionately affect Black voters in the state, it’s really important to get an idea of how the Black players themselves feel about the whole thing.

It’s usually a good rule of thumb in life to listen to Black people when they’re raising red flags about something, and here you have a bunch of prominent Black baseball players collectively raising a huge red flag when it comes to Georgia’s bill. If this many people are voicing their concerns over something, then it’s probably in your best interest to listen to why exactly they’re so aggrieved at the moment. This is much ado about something, as evidenced by MLB actually listening to the players and moving the All-Star Game out of the state.

Additionally, that’s what makes the Braves’ statement on the All-Star Game leaving town so disappointing in my eyes. It’s disappointing because this is the same team that’s planning to spend this season honoring the memory of the franchise’s greatest player: Henry Aaron. Aaron was a titan on the field, but he was just as big of a figure off the field. I am extremely skeptical of the idea that Henry Aaron would agree with the statement that the Braves made following MLB’s announcement. It’s an especially shameful display from the Braves when you consider that all of the other big-league sports teams in town seemed to be on the right side of things — but somehow, the team that actually employed a major figure of the Civil Rights Movement managed to miss the mark so badly.

I strongly believe that Aaron would have been in favor of making the strongest statement possible in opposition of the bill that was passed, and that would have included moving the All-Star Game out of town. It’s a tough decision and a tough stance to make, but Henry Aaron was used to standing for what he believed in whether it was unanimously popular or not. This would’ve been a prime example of Hank Aaron standing for what he believed in and it would’ve very likely been in direct opposition of what the Braves had to say as an organization.

Once again, it has to be noted that facing consequences for actions that can be quite easily described as being “discriminatory” can’t just be chalked up to “cancel culture” or “liberal bias” or whatever is the current boogeyman running wild in the ongoing culture war. This is simply an example of MLB actually standing up for the right thing. The NFL made the right decision in the late-1980s by taking the Super Bowl away from Arizona, the NBA made the right decision a few years ago by taking their All-Star Game away from North Carolina, and MLB made the right choice by taking their All-Star event away from Georgia. It’s awful for us as fans, but the onus is now on our local government in Georgia to do the right thing. It eventually happened in Arizona and it sort-of happened in North Carolina — maybe this state will find itself on the right side of history in the near future. Until then, my dreams of watching a Home Run Derby live and in person are on hold and it’s a real shame.