Editor's note: On April 2, MLB announced it would pull the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta as a response to the Georgia state legislature's passage of the controversial voter suppression bill.
Voting rights advocates have pressured leading corporations in Georgia to lobby against new voter suppression laws, but they have been curiously reluctant to enlist the state’s professional sports stakeholders in the cause. That may be about to change, as the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) has indicated it may be open to advocating more forcefully on behalf of voting rights.
Georgia has become the focus of media attention on voting rights, due to its relentless pursuit of new laws that make it harder for people of color, along with many other voters, to cast a ballot.
The city of Atlanta, Georgia is scheduled to host the 91st annual MLB All Star Game this year, providing voting rights advocates with a high-profile event to leverage for their case. In an interview last week with Boston Globe, MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark indicated that the players have been closely following the voter suppression movement in Georgia, and they are willing to have a conversation with the league on moving the All Star Game.
Realistically, the probability of shifting the 2021 All-Star game out of Georgia is slim to none. For starters, more than 250 voter suppression bills have flooded the legislatures in two dozen other states so far this year. That shrinks the options for an alternative location considerably.
Florida, for example, is currently considering the same type of prohibition on food and water distribution mandated by the new Georgia law. Regardless of the stated intent, the effect of such a law is to foster onerous, health-threatening conditions for people who live in areas shorted on polling place, and are forced to wait for hours in long lines to vote.
On the other hand, there is a precedent.
“In 2016, the NBA decided to move its 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, N.C., a reaction to a bill enacted by the state that limited anti-discrimination protections,” wrote Globe reporter Michael Silverman. “In explaining the decision, the league said it was acting on its ‘longstanding core values,’ which ‘include not only diversity, inclusion, fairness, and respect for others but also the willingness to listen and consider opposing points of view.’
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MLB makes much of its voting rights advocacy, stating that “the greatest civic duty of any American is to exercise the right to vote and actively participate in the electoral process – the bedrock of a functioning democracy” and that “each free and fair election provides an opportunity to shape our nation and work toward upholding its values.”
The MLBPA could persuade MLB to step up its game, and they can all but certainly count on support from voting rights activist and NBA star LeBron James, who has taken steps to become a part owner of the Boston Red Sox. James recently acquired a stake in the team’s parent company, Fenway Sports Group. The deal does not automatically confer ownership status for James on the team, but it does make him, along with his business manager Maverick Carter, among the first Black owners in MLB history – with Magic Johnson being the first.
James could become a significant factor in any conversation between the MLBPA and Major League Baseball over voting rights advocacy, building on his role in co-founding the More than a Vote organization last year in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
On March 5, More than a Vote launched the new "Protect Our Power" voting rights campaign in concert with the NBA's All-Star Weekend.
“As part of the launch, More Than A Vote is partnering with the Black Voters Matter Fund, Fair Fight Action, Georgia NAACP and the New Georgia Project to focus on legislation in Georgia that would restrict access to voting, with the state emerging as the epicenter of the battle over voting rights,” CBS News reported.
Notably, the campaign features a video ad, narrated by James, that ties the new voter suppression bills to the failed insurrection of January 6, underscoring that white supremacy, and white on Black violence, have been leading features of race-based voter suppression throughout the nation’s history right on up to the present day.
James’s stake in the Red Sox is not a direct financial arrangement, and he will need approval from Major League Baseball before his team ownership status is official. It’s possible that the sensitivity of the situation will be a factor as he weighs next steps for More than a Vote.
However, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp forced his hand last week, when he signed a “sweeping” voter suppression bill last week that put renewed pressure on the state’s corporate citizens to act.
In addition, Major League Baseball has already set itself up as part of the pressure campaign due to its partnership with the Civic Alliance, which bills itself as a nonpartisan, business-supported voting rights organization that is “working together to build a future where everyone participates in shaping our country.”
Though top Georgia-based companies like Coca-Cola, Delta, and Aflac are not part of the Alliance, the organization’s list of 1,119 members includes many familiar national brands.
Though the All-Star Game may remain in Georgia, it almost certain to be the nexus of a renewed push for voting rights activity this summer, and leading Georgia corporations, including Coca-Cola, Delta, and Aflac, will feel the heat.
Image credit: Thomson200/Wiki Commons
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.