Revenge and backlash have always been the American response to defeat, especially in the case of civil rights. Despite the resulting confusion, disorientation, and outrage, Georgia’s ballot bill, enacted last month, was clearly a response to defeat, as was the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. USA. Sports have always been expected to provide a form of talc to mitigate the effects of backlash, the illusion that games reflect a certain national unity through their deviations: the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the World Series. My team, your team, our country.
Through the lens of civics and values, sport as an industry has not handled hardships particularly well. The 20th century was the century of sport, and in it, the games have enthusiastically tolerated racism, homophobia, war, sexism, sexual abuse, police brutality, domestic violence, the use of drugs to improve the performance, nationalism and, in the case of college sports, exploitation of athletes for decades. The games, and those who run them, however, have always been motivated by two main concerns: reacting within the general mood of the country and, especially, responding to the concerns of corporate partners. Tyreek Hill didn’t hurt business, Ray Rice did. Arizona’s notorious anti-immigration bill, enacted in 2010, was an egregious law, but Bud Selig and baseball did not intend to carry over spring training to express their displeasure. Georgia’s elimination of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game last week is just the latest example of a league mitigating damage to its image through that framework; It so happened that damage control and doing the right thing in this case turned out to be the same.
For baseball to have staged the All-Star Game in Atlanta, while honoring the late Henry Aaron, without an actual significant denunciation of the new law, it would have posed unnecessary risk. He would have exposed himself to the embarrassment of holding his mid-season party in a state that once again sought to aggressively disenfranchise and suppress black votes. He would have done so a few months after his historic inclusion of the statistics of Negro League players in the conventional record books. And he would have done so after stating his commitment to stop being a passive observer of the nation’s massive social upheavals.
Had it remained in Georgia, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and his sport would always have been remembered as the sport that rewarded Georgia’s fiction, that the 2020 election and its subsequent senatorial runoff were stolen, and that the deadly attack to the US Capitol was justified. Few, if any, major corporations in the United States, even tangentially, want to be associated with the disparaging and corrosive narratives of the 2020 election, especially considering that it was precisely that kind of rhetoric that incited the violence. January 6th. By calling on all American companies to oppose laws that would restrict the rights of black voters, 72 black business executives were also effectively speaking to baseball, pressuring the game to make a statement. Georgia’s strong relationship with Hollywood is also under pressure. For them, doing business with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp just wasn’t worth it.
From a corporate standpoint, the headache was no more worth it than for the NFL to support Colin Kaepernick’s constitutionally protected right to protest. In that case, the NFL and its teams sacrificed blatant American values; no team signing Kaepernick was consistent with the mainstream mood. New York Giants owner John Mara and Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said they feared hiring Kaepernick would hurt their bottom line, financially and with their fans, not because Kaepernick was legal or moral. wrong, but simply because kneeling was so unpopular. So, they gave in and kept him out of football. In this case, the world following George Floyd’s assassination is different from the overwhelming patriotism of the post-9/11 United States First Amendment, and MLB calculated that it was better to accept short-term criticism rather than use hypocrisy to long time to honor Henry Aaron while his state turned reactionary on a grand scale.
The events of the week equate to a civics lesson. The purpose of pressure is to provoke an action, a concession. As the rhetoric has grown in this country – which is going back to Jim Crow, Reconstruction, Antebellum – it must also be noted that it was political pressure that brought the Braves to Atlanta in the first place. After Bill Bartholomay bought Lou Perini from the Milwaukee Braves with the intention of moving them to Atlanta for the 1965 season, black Milwaukee players Henry Aaron and Lee Maye in particular expressed their displeasure. “I knew what was there and I didn’t want to go back,” Henry told me about segregation years ago, repeating his position from 1964. “I was happy in Milwaukee.” Bartholomay wanted to be the man who opened the Deep South to professional sports, but rigid Jim Crow laws and the region’s segregation made that impossible. The 1965 AFL All-Star Game moved from New Orleans because black players couldn’t find adequate lodging or transportation. That game took place in Houston. As a condition of moving from Milwaukee to Atlanta, then-Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. guaranteed that the seats at the soon-to-be-built Fulton County Stadium would be integrated: no colored sections, no water fountains of colors or separate concession stands. Sports that use economic pressure for political ends were precisely the point, then and now.
Fifty-six years later, Manfred’s intent to get the game out of Atlanta was certainly punitive, clearly as a message to the legislators who passed the bill. The decision noted that there are consequences for aligning with toxic narratives, both attacking the legitimacy of the voting process and subsequently restricting access to it. Manfred and MLB could have kept the game in Atlanta and used their considerable political influence to directly target the Georgia General Assembly. His decision was also punitive for the working poor, black and white, Uber and Lyft drivers, hotel workers, and dealerships and bar owners who needed sponsors of a major national event to come to Atlanta and spend. However, the message was for those same voters harmed by the decision to hold legislators accountable for positions that could harm them in the future, or if they subscribe to disenfranchisement policies (as was the case during segregation decades ago) to rethink your own values. Arrogant, yes, and Georgia’s workers were harmed as a result, but arrogance is a defining characteristic of power.
However, what Manfred’s decision should not be confused with is the expectation that Major League Baseball, the corporation, now sees itself as an ally in the fight against voter suppression. Nor should the corporations that lobbied Manfred be viewed as morally heroic, since, in the weeks leading up to the vote, Georgia’s powerful business class remained largely silent. They let the law pass and are trying, too late, to reposition themselves in the face of negativity.
For its part, baseball is not seeking repeal of the law, nor has it committed at this time to use its political action committee to nominate or support candidates against Republican lawmakers who supported the bill. Nor has Manfred set any public conditions or investigated the new location. There is no place in America today that is not problematic. Here there was no epiphany. If Manfred’s position was to say that baseball was disappointed in Georgia’s legislation and would be active in getting the bill reversed, the sport would be operating with a new manual of using economic and political pressure to ensure its values. corporations are reflected in a state where one of its franchises is located. That is not what is happening. MLB is recognizing that Georgia is a political nightmare, one that it just doesn’t need. That is significant and important, and in this individual case for this individual moment, perhaps enough. After two political trials, a pandemic, an insurrection, a crumbling country, with mounting corporate pressures, and the law itself against the values of at least some of the baseball executive council members, Georgia simply does not I was”. It is not worth the pain. Considering all the components, the game really didn’t have much of a choice.