In a democracy, voting is the most fundamental, crucial, and sacred right. Our government is run by representatives chosen by the people, based on the visions for the future of this country the people want to see realized. Protecting the right to vote should not be a political matter, because neither liberals nor conservatives should find it moral or constitutional to deny the right to vote to anyone, whether explicitly or implicitly.
The aim of Georgia’s new unnecessarily restrictive voting law is to make it harder for people to vote. Their bill reduces the number of absentee ballot drop boxes in the state, restricts early voting in the state’s most populous counties, gives more election oversight power to partisan officials, and most stunningly, makes it a crime to give food and water to voters in long lines. If the bill were a viewpoint-neutral restriction on voting, it would be objectionable as a curb on the people’s most sacred democratic right. The fact that it was sped through Georgia’s three month-long legislative session and passed into law by the Republican legislature and Governor on partisan lines as a direct reaction to Georgia voters’ choice to vote for a Democratic president and two Democratic Senators makes it even more nefarious.
On Friday, Major League Baseball announced that it was moving the All-Star Game and MLB Draft, originally scheduled to be held at Truist Park in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, out of the state in protest of the new voting restrictions. In a statement, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said that the league “supports voting rights for all and opposes restriction to the ballot box.”
Major League Baseball made the right decision to move the 2021 MLB All-Star Game out of Atlanta.
When I first think of Georgia, I think about delicious peaches, the Spanish moss lining the streets of Savannah, and Atlanta, one of my favorite cities in the United States for its interactive attractions, the ability to learn more about modern American history, and donuts. But we also must remember that Georgia is home to some of the most influential civil rights leaders in American history. John Lewis, the U.S. Congressman from Atlanta from the 1980s to his passing in 2020, was brutally beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama just for standing up for Black Americans’ right to vote, a day that is now commemorated as “Bloody Sunday”. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the most influential civil rights leader in American history, and began his nonviolent protests from the pulpit of his Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Andrew Young was an ambassador and congressman who worked in close coordination with King and former President Jimmy Carter to champion human rights around the globe. And, of course, Hank Aaron, the Atlanta Braves legend born into poverty in segregated Alabama, who used his status as a Major Leaguer to help accelerate the desegregation of Atlanta.
The actions of the Georgia state legislature are a shocking rebuke of the values that Lewis, King, Young, and Aaron stood for. Voting is inherently political, but it should not and must not be made partisan. We face such incredible division in our country largely because of attacks on the simple and universal right to vote, fueled by untruthful statements about election sabotage and fraud.
The announcement was, expectedly, devastating to Atlanta fans and area officials. As division rivals of Atlanta, we Nats fans know that some of baseball’s most devoted and passionate fans cheer for the Braves who were looking forward to welcoming the league to their city in 2021 the same way Nationals fans were able to in 2018. The Braves put out a statement Friday, claiming the “businesses, employees, and fans in Georgia” as the victims of MLB’s decision. But why should any influential business choose to operate its signature event in a state that won’t even respect the right to vote, the fabric of our democracy? This move is precedented; in 2016, the NBA moved their All-Star game from Charlotte, North Carolina after the state passed a discriminatory law restricting transgender individuals’ access to public restrooms. Even more recently, the NCAA threatened to cease holding events in Mississippi unless the state changed their flag, which used to contain the Confederate battle emblem until a new design was adopted in 2020. (Georgia’s state flag, interestingly, is directly derived from the Confederacy’s national flag, and contained the infamous battle emblem until 2000). The sports world learned last year that it takes incredible corporate pressure for an organization to reverse a decision, after major sponsors Nike, FedEx, and Pepsi threatened to withdraw their sponsorships of the Washington Football Team until they changed their team name. It’s time to subject the state of Georgia to the same, because they should not be able to limit the constitutional rights of their citizens and reap the benefits of a major revenue-generating sporting event in their state at the same time.
This is bigger than baseball, and I hope that Major League Baseball’s strong message influences the state’s future decisions regarding voting rights. When these restrictions are overturned, I am sure that Major League Baseball will bring the All-Star Game and its many festivities to beautiful new Truist Park. Yesterday’s actions show that the MLB is willing to put civil liberties and the rights we are granted by the Constitution ahead of the promise to host the league’s premier midsummer event in a state that doesn’t respect those liberties. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston alleged on Twitter that the league “caved to fear, political opportunism, and lies”, but it’s totally warranted for leadership of a diverse, inclusive league to make decisions as a private business in support of something as simple yet crucial as the right to vote. Georgia must rethink these voting restrictions, and Major League Baseball has made the right decision to move the All-Star festivities out of the Peach State until Georgia’s voting restrictions are lifted.
If you would like to help fight attacks on the right to vote nationwide, please visit Fair Fight, an organization based in Georgia that combats voter suppression.