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Major League Baseball’s decision to relocate its July All-Star Game from Atlanta because of Georgia’s new election law has people choosing sides and fact-checkers yelling, “Foul!”
Commissioner Rob Manfred announced on April 2 he was moving the midsummer event and the MLB draft from Atlanta, saying he made the decision after consulting teams, players, and players’ organizations. Others say he folded to political and corporate pressure, noting the Georgia election law expands, not restricts, voter access. They call MLB’s decision harmful to the city and the individuals it claims to defend, and they pointed out the league just sealed a deal with a Communist-backed tech company in China, where free elections don’t exist.
On March 25, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed the new law, a response to concerns about security and fairness during the 2020 presidential election.
President Joe Biden two days before MLB made the move said the law restricts voter access and later told ESPN he’d “strongly support” MLB moving the All-Star Game. Citing Biden’s criticisms as false, The Washington Post gave the president “four Pinocchios”—its worst accuracy rating—for claiming the law ends voting hours early and limits voting opportunities. “Experts say the net effect was to expand opportunities to vote for most Georgians, not limit them,” Post fact checker Glenn Kessler wrote.
Opponents continued to insist the law will suppress votes from African Americans because it requires identification when requesting and mailing ballots. (Georgia already requires ID to vote in person.) Like other Southern states, Georgia did use voter laws to disenfranchise blacks during the Jim Crow era, which eventually prompted the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. And some proposals that never made their way into the final Georgia law—such as a provision to end Sunday voting, which would disproportionately affect black voters—raised alarm.
But even some Democrats such as Justin Giboney, president of the AND Campaign, said calling the new law “Jim Crow 2.0” is wrong. He wasn’t alone.
OutKick sports media founder Clay Travis lambasted arguments about the elements of the new law that actually passed: “You need an ID to pick up tickets to attend a baseball game. Or to get a beer inside once you’re there.”
The Coca-Cola Co., headquartered in Atlanta, criticized the law yet required a valid ID for entrance to its own 2020 shareholders meeting. Thirty-six states require some form of voter ID, including Colorado, the state MLB moved the All-Star game to. It mails ballots to all registered voters automatically. But it has fewer early voting days and uses signature matching to verify mail-in ballots.
ESPN’s Howard Bryant said pressure from corporate sponsors caused MLB to change venues, according to his sources. He tweeted players did not threaten to boycott and did not get to vote on the issue. The Atlanta Braves organization announced it was “deeply disappointed” over MLB’s move and had hoped Atlanta’s hosting would enhance discussions of voting.
Coca-Cola and Delta, another Atlanta-based company, say they worked behind the scenes for changes to the original bill. But Delta CEO Ed Bastian condemned the final version, saying it didn’t mesh with Delta’s values and wasn’t necessary because the rationale for it—claims of widespread voter fraud—was “based on a lie.”
Kemp rebuffed Bastian’s statements: “At no point did Delta share any opposition to expanding early voting, strengthening voter ID measures, increasing the use of secure drop-boxes statewide, and making it easier for local election officials to administer elections—which is exactly what this bill does.” Kemp added he had to show his photo ID last time he flew Delta.
Liberal activists are calling for boycotts of Georgia-based companies for not doing enough to block the legislation. MLB’s All-Star Game decision alone will financially harm a sizable portion of the population MLB says it’s defending. The city of Atlanta is predominantly black, and more than 30 percent of its businesses are black-owned. The 2019 All-Star Game in Cleveland generated a citywide spending increase of $65 million (there was no All-Star game in 2020). In 2000, when Atlanta last hosted the game, the economic impact to the city was $49 million, according to Baseball Almanac.
U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., doesn’t support moving the All-Star Game and opposes all boycotts but says corporations should stop supporting the Republican Party. Former President Donald Trump is calling for boycotts of MLB for caving to liberal pressures.
The same week it yanked the All-Star game from Atlanta, MLB signed a deal with Chinese tech company Tencent to stream 125 games in China. This is the same company that in 2019 yanked NBA games after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
—A version of this story originally appeared in Muse