Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The All Star Game Drama

Photo courtesy of cleveland.com

On Friday, Major League Baseball released a statement that they had moved the 2021 All-Star Game and MLB Draft from Atlanta due to the recently enacted changes in Georgia election laws. These laws which restrict voting access were put into place as a reaction to a record voter turnout overall and especially from Black Georgians. Here's a much better breakdown than I can give about the mechanics of the laws. On its face it may not seem like a big deal, but these changes have to be viewed within the context of a party which is constantly attempting to restrict voting as much as possible to maintain power, and a state and country in which innocuous-seeming Jim Crow laws have kept and continue to Black people from voting.

For the MLB to make this statement is to show that they care to put public pressure on Georgia to overturn these laws. This is the same thing that the NBA and NCAA did a few years ago by removing the All Star Game and college postseason games from North Carolina in response to the anti-trans HB2. There's a precedent for the actions that the league took in this scenario. It's unclear how direct of an impact those actions had on the state backtracking on the bill a year later, but we do know that it didn't necessarily hurt. 

Good for the MLB, I guess. In a vacuum, it's great that the league took a stand against these racist laws. However, I'm more convinced that this is a case of good public relations than out of Rob Manfred wanting to take a stance against these laws. If he did, then the league would throw financial backing behind the grassroots organizers who will be fighting to increase voter access in Black communities. We're in an era where sports leagues are trying harder than ever to win brownie points by positioning themselves as supporters or even drivers of social justice. It's a disingenuous suggestion and I will not be patting the MLB on the back for doing in this case the bare minimum. In fact, given Georgia's blatant disregard for COVID safety over the past year, and the well known disproportionate impact that the pandemic has on communities of color, the All-Star Game should have been moved from Atlanta a long time ago.

After seeing this initial statement, I was ready to move on with my day. 

However. 

Then the Atlanta Braves came off the top rope with potentially the worst statement I've ever had the misfortune of reading. 

Upon reading this for the first time, I had an involuntary, audible reaction: "oh fuck off." This statement made me so angry, that I was driven to end my nearly five year writing hiatus. 

To lie like this about businesses, employees, fans, unity, and community—which in Atlanta is implied to be heavily Black—on letterhead featuring a racist caricature of Indigenous people takes such an elite level of cognitive dissonance that I have to be impressed. The franchise who had Chief Noc-A-Homa living in a teepee in the outfield well into the 1980s and continues to pump the tomahawk chop music into the stadium roughly 16 times per inning is not allowed to grandstand as the victim in a discussion about racism. 

In order to really understand the inanity of this statement, you first must be aware of where the Braves actually play. Their home stadium is in Cobb County, about 15 miles from Downtown Atlanta in an area known for its heavy traffic. Having been to Truist Park, I can say from personal experience that the trek to the stadium from most places in Atlanta is...not short. Immediately surrounding the park is a mall which is simultaneously aimed at making your gameday experience better as well as trapping you in suburbia as long as possible. The "businesses" who will be so devastated by the loss of this major event are Wahlburgers and the Omni Hotel. This is a team who left Atlanta for Cobb County because they saw the opportunity for their stadium to be subsidized by government money, and the ability to move closer to their white, suburban fans. Yet here they are virtue signaling on behalf of the city of Atlanta, when they actively removed themselves and gameday related revenue from the city only four years ago. We watched that happen. 

Atlanta, the city that perfected white flight, cannot be vaunted as a "uniter" in "divided times." Atlanta is a beautiful city known for a lot of things. Incredible music, culture, food, activists, organizers, and leaders? Yes. Unity? Nah. The divided times in question is the general conservative codeword for the problem caused by their ideology which does not value the humanity of vulnerable populations. In this specific instance, the dividing event is a set of laws which make voting a much more difficult process for millions of people. An All Star Game was never going to mend that bridge. If the Braves really cared about their community, they would take a stand against these laws and focus on joining the MLB in this public pressure campaign to get them overturned instead of taking this not-so-Brave position.

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