Many in Atlanta, Georgia hoped to see the best the MLB had to offer in July when the All-Star Game and the MLB draft were scheduled to come to their city. However, the MLB announced that they would be hosting all the All-Star activities and the draft in Denver, Colorado as a result of Georgia’s new voting reforms which are aimed to reduce minority turnout, which heavily favors Democrats. Many were surprised as it seems that a league that was apolitical suddenly move their All-Star game for political reasons. The reaction has a mix of responses but it definitely has many wondering why the MLB suddenly broke its silence on political matters.
First, many need to understand what the voting reforms in Georgia are really about and why they were even introduced. For most of the 21st century, Georgia had been a solidly Republican state. 2018 hinted at possible change as the gubernatorial election between Georgia House Minority Leader Democrat Stacey Abrams and Georgia Secretary of State Republican Brian Kemp was very close with Kemp winning by less than 2%. Kemp had been attacked by Abrams who claimed he used voter suppression by canceling nearly 700,000 voter registrations (many of which belonged to minorities) in 2017 along with 53,000 a month before the election. Two years later, President Trump lost Georgia by 0.2% to President Biden and Kemp (who prided himself on being a staunch Trump supporter in 2018) refused to admit there was voter fraud in Georgia and did not overturn the election results.
Alongside the presidential election was a special Senate race between Democrat Reverend Raphael Warnock and Republican businesswoman Kelly Loeffler to coincide with the regularly scheduled Senate race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and incumbent Republican David Perdue. Both races went to a runoff (another election between the two candidates who received the most votes when no candidate receives 50% of the vote) where both Democrats won. Kemp was attacked by President Trump and other Republican politicians for not doing anything to prevent Biden from winning the state and has been rumored to face a challenge in the Republican Primary for Governor by a candidate who is more faithful to Trump.
However, sports in Georgia have had a recent history with politics. Former Heisman winner and University of Georgia icon Herschel Walker has been an outspoken Trump supporter and is rumored to run for Governor against Kemp or run for US Senate against Warnock in 2022. Notably, Loeffler was part-owner of the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA, and received backlash from her own players after denouncing the Black Lives Matter Movement which led to them supporting Warnock. Georgia is becoming more Democratic rather quickly as Trump won the state by 5% in 2016 and most Democrats did not come close to winning anything else in Georgia until Abrams in 2018. Because of this, Georgia Republicans have become worried about losing the state and political tension has risen in the state.
Last month, the Georgia State Legislature passed the Election Integrity Act of 2021 as a response to Biden winning the state and Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the state. The bill includes limiting dropboxes to only one per 100,000 people, Voter ID to request an absentee ballot, shorter window to request an absentee ballot, elections to be run by officials chosen by the state legislature, reducing the time between a general election and a runoff election, not allowing provisional ballots to those who report to the wrong voting center, and notably not allowing those waiting on line to vote to have food or drink. Denver, however, is in a state that President Biden won by over 13% and has not come under any controversy recently in politics. Georgia’s bill is seen as very divisive since it affects the more urban areas of Georgia, which are Democratic and diverse. Many Democrats have criticized this bill as an act of voter suppression because of these restrictions.
Despite this seeming like the MLB trying to make a statement, this is not the first time a sports league has done this. In 2017, the NBA All-Star Game was moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to New Orleans, Louisiana after North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a law that forced people to use the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate which many described as transphobic. Even before that, the NFL moved Super Bowl XXVII from Tempe, Arizona to Pasadena, California after Arizona refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1991, however, the Super Bowl returned to Arizona in 1996 after it recognized the holiday.
Now many might wonder why the MLB decided to do this as the bill in Georgia was significantly less controversial than the ones in North Carolina and Arizona. The only reason is that the MLB, including commissioner Rob Manfred, the owners, and the players simply do not believe in this law and want to use their influence to express their concerns. Not everyone in the MLB is against the bill, but the Players Association is and likely many others. Despite it seeming that the MLB is siding with Democrats, they have been quite bipartisan recently. The MLB has donated equally to Republicans and Democrats and largely stayed out of politics in the past, which makes this move even more surprising.
The MLB isn’t suddenly going to support liberal ideas and make political statements, but Commissioner Manfred likely talked to the owners, managers, coaches, and players before making this decision. The MLB felt they needed to break its silence over a bill it thought was unjust. It’s unlikely everyone in the MLB agrees with this decision, but the MLB Players Association approved, which let Manfred know that the players wanted to boycott the game in Atlanta. Manfred’s political party is unknown, but regardless, he felt he was acting in the best interest of the players and the league as a whole. The MLB feels it was best to not host the game in Atlanta and will continue to act in its best interest, which is trying not to alienate anyone. A league that has been primarily apolitical will likely still be apolitical or at least bipartisan as opposed to other leagues.
The NBA is definitely the most political league of the three major sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL) and that’s because the players want that. Commissioner Silver has stood by the player body, which over 75% of it is minorities and has promoted the messages they want. LeBron James, the face of the league, has been open about his support for Hillary Clinton and President Biden and expressed his distaste for President Trump. Then Trump rescinded his invitation for the Golden State Warriors to visit the White House after winning the championship. Then Rockets GM Darryl Morey tweeted his support for the Hong Kong protests which the NBA tried to cover up, leading to Republicans calling the NBA hypocrites. Then the NBA began to support social justice issues and the Black Lives Matter movement. Then players went on strike to protest the Jacob Blake shooting. Ratings have dropped significantly as many conservative NBA fans have been turned away. The NBA has taken quite a political turn and many fear that the MLB will meet the same fate.
However, the NBA’s political history has not been as controversial as the NFL’s. The NFL had been fairly apolitical until September 2016 until 49ers Quaterback Colin Kaepernick knelt for the national anthem and stirred up a lot of controversy. Kaepernick has not played a game since 2016 and many connect his kneeling as to why he has not played in over four years. Then-President Trump condemning the kneeling which led to more players kneeling and made many conservative fans angry as they felt it was disrespectful. However, the NFL is more divided politically with a majority of the players leaning liberal, a majority of the owners lean conservative, and the fans try to remain apolitical. The NFL tried to take some of the NBA’s activism, but the older, more conservative NFL fans were turned off by the activism that younger, more liberal NBA fans supported. However, the NFL’s political division has led to a stall in political activism with ratings dropping which some believe that the players’ liberal-leaning ideology for that.
So this leaves the MLB, which is majority white as opposed to the NBA and NFL. Now many think that the MLB will become very political, and while it is possible, it likely will stick to its apolitical ways. The MLB seems to be quite divided and does not want to enter a situation of political unrest. While this might seem like quite a partisan response, the MLB should follow a narrative of voting and how they want fans to vote, regardless of party. Voting rights are not necessarily partisan as both Democrats and Republicans support voting. But the Georgia Republicans passed this bill and similar bills in Arizona, Florida, Texas, and many other states will be passed. The MLB can stand up for voting rights and claim it wants to just have the American people have their voices heard, which the Georgia bill makes more difficult. The NBA took a specific stance on social justice, but the MLB encouraging voting is less controversial.
Many still ask why the MLB decided to do this and why athletes, in general, will not be apolitical. The answer is simple: they want to use their influence. Athletes are well known and want to do something off the court. They are like everyone else, where they have a political opinion, and they can share it. It does not matter which way they lean, but they can share it if they want. Some players feel strongly enough that they need to express their beliefs. They try to represent many others who cannot represent themselves, which is why some are so outspoken about politics.
However, Politics are so divisive that many players stay apolitical to not anger their fans or be publicly ripped for their views. LeBron James was told by Fox News Anchor Laura Ingraham to “shut up and dribble” and Ingraham also had rude remarks for Kevin Durant and Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. All three are liberal, while Ingraham is a staunch conservative, yet she is saying that we should not consider their political views while we should consider hers.
There is no reason we should consider her views more than Durant’s because he plays basketball and she talks politics, nobody’s opinion is greater than anyone else’s. Ingraham simply would not listen to any of those athletes because they were liberal. Last June, she went back on her comments and defended Drew Brees for not kneeling claiming it was his First Amendment right. Drew Brees did nothing different than LeBron except take a more conservative view. Unfortunate as it is, many people listen to Ingraham but will immediately dismiss Popovich’s comments because they like her views. Many people will not consider athlete’s political positions, even if valid and well-spoken because they clash with their own views. Those who listen and disagree might consider politics too much and thus not watch the sports, as sad as it is.
At the end of the day, it does not matter about an athlete’s political views, as that is not the main reason why we like sports. People are still friends with people who have contradicting political views. Why should it matter that you are at odds politically? There is more to your friendship than politics. We should not watch or not watch sports because the players support a politician you are against, because that’s not why we enjoyed it in the first place. We enjoy sports because we like to see players put on excellent entertainment and do what they love to do. We should not let politics divide us and instead enjoy what we love.
If the MLB wants to move the All-Star Game, so be it. The game won’t be worse in Denver than it would be in Atlanta, and we’ll still see Baseball’s best. It should not matter what happens in Georgia politics, as that’s not why we watch the game. I feel that sports should only be about the sport, and the external factors should not steer away fans. If Mike Trout supports a politician I do not like, I won’t stop watching baseball, I’ll simply ignore it and focus on the sport and why I love it. Sports are a great way to ignore the rest of our lives and root for our teams. Sports never were, are, or will be about politics. We came together for our love of sports, and we should only let our love of sports divide us.
Photo: David Zalubowski