I certainly give Major League Baseball (MLB) and Jackie Robinson credit for breaking the color barrier and slowly ending segregation within the sport. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and dozens of other stand-out players from the former Negro Leagues followed, but in terms of upper management and franchise ownership, the league looks a great deal like it did when Hank Aaron retired from the diamond and into Braves franchise management in 1974.
I’m not trying to say that America’s pastime is prejudiced, but I am pointing out that among professional sports, it is far from being the “most woke.”
The Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Sports Council, Cobb County government, Chamber of Commerce and CVB among others, invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a bid and effort, fairly won several years ago, to host the MLB All-Star Game in 2021. Such sporting mega-events, like the recent NBA All-Star Game weekend in Atlanta, draw fans, visitors and heavy spending, media attention, and a surprising amount of later side investment.
Unrelated to those event hosting competitions, won fairly and squarely, the Georgia General Assembly passed, and Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law, an omnibus election law reform package, SB 202, during late March. The law in some places expands voting access, via additional advance and weekend voting, and in other places retracts it, but perhaps most importantly provides some new security protocol on the front and back end of absentee balloting. Ballot dropboxes, a temporary pandemic emergency order measure, first recommended by the Trump Administration, were also codified into law, though pulled indoors at early voting sites, and during polling hours, versus 24-hour access.
The new law is receiving as much attention as the earlier burning of Atlanta, though that re-telling and legend didn’t see its mythology reach epic proportions until nearly 70 years later, with the fictional tale of “Gone with the Wind.” The internet, Democratic and voting rights activists and multiple networks and legacy media outlets have fanned the flames a bit harder this go-round, and while we can certainly debate the justification and fairness of that, versus what is actually contained, and not, in the 98-page state statute, I will venture that no one at MLB League HQ in New York has bothered to read it.
In pulling the event, in an attempt to cause reputational injury and a pain point to the state of Georgia and its political leadership, here is who is actually being harmed: the Atlanta Braves, out their earlier investment and a likely sell-out stadium on the back end of a never-ending pandemic, Cobb County (the owners of Truist Park), and hundreds of area businesses, restaurants and hotels near Battery Park and the Cobb Galleria, now facing thousands of cancellations and dozens of millions in lost revenue.
If the folks at MLB had done their homework, they might have also noted that Cobb County went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, Stacey Abrams in 2018, and President Joe Biden and Georgia’s two new Democratic U.S. senators in 2020. On the local level, Cobb elected Lisa Cupid, a Democrat and black female, as its county commission chair, and also a new sheriff and district attorney, also both African Americans.
Before sports leagues self-anoint themselves as morality police, or begin giving guidance on social justice, race, and equity issues, some internal housekeeping and fairness checks are in order. It wasn’t all that long ago that at least one MLB team owner almost could not hold a press conference without offering an expletive or occasional racial epithet.
However, in this episode, while MLB is attempting to take on the role of a scolding Dr. Phil or even Dr. Ruth, its feet of clay give this more the impact of a Dr. Pepper. Perhaps a bit of indigestion will follow, as well as some real economic injury to folks who had absolutely nothing at all to do with the political decision being criticized.
I imagine, in part based on the applause from certain national media outlets and similar commentary from some prominent Georgia corporate chieftains, MLB’s leadership is giving itself a congratulatory pat on the back. You will know this is for real though when they decline to attend the Masters at Augusta National, or ask Liberty Media to relocate their Braves franchise. This is more like the handful of Georgia legislators temporarily asking Coca-Cola to pull the free beverages stocked in their offices at the Georgia Capitol. Now when they start pouring Pepsi in those places and spaces ... then things will really have gotten real.