Looks like Major League Baseball is OK with voter suppression after all.
All right, not really. But it’s not an outlandish conclusion based on the decision announced Nov. 16 to play the 2025 All-Star Game in Atlanta. After all, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred made a pompous, preening show of moving the game away from there in 2021, ostensibly to make a socially vital statement against changes to Georgia’s voting laws.
That game was played in Colorado. The Georgia law stands in place. So, what’s changed? How can baseball justify endorsing what it denounced just two years ago?
The actual effects of the Georgia law have been revealed, not that MLB would admit it. Corporations seem to be realizing that giving in to activists’ demands to weigh in on one side of hotly contested debates can be a disaster for business, not that MLB would admit it. Baseball’s move is now clearly understood as an ill-informed, knee-jerk decision quickly exposed as a wild overreaction — not that MLB would admit it.
And we’ve recently seen worse. Most notable was Bud Light’s decision to partner with a transgender activist, Dylan Mulvaney, at the peak of debate over issues such as trans athletes’ effect on women’s sports and the appropriateness of medical treatment for trans children.
Georgia’s election law, enacted in 2021, was a mixed bag. Tougher identification requirements and other restrictions on mail ballots were balanced with expanded early voting.
Even the provision that got the most attention, barring third parties from distributing food and drink to voters in lines, was caricatured. It’s an American tradition going back at least to George Washington to ply voters with freebies, usually booze. In modern times, what’s called “electioneering” is limited at polling places. Laws impose distance requirements on campaign representatives so voters don’t feel swayed or intimidated.
Overall, the Georgia law was politically contentious, with reasonable arguments on both sides. Rabid predictions that Georgia was shutting down democracy proved preposterous: Georgia led the South in voter turnout, though longstanding gaps in participation by minority voters remained.
Baseball, though, took the side that the law was so onerous that it would stain the game — the same game that was segregated for decades and allowed steroids to run amok — to be associated with it. It sided with President Joe Biden, who called the Georgia law “Jim Crow on steroids.” Ah, yes, the decades-long suppression of Black citizens’ economic and civic existence, and often their very lives, was nothing compared to life in a state with up to 17 days of early voting.
Manfred nearly matched the president’s puffery and hysteria, self-righteously proclaiming that he might consider another Atlanta bid but would not “get into what I would need to see changed.”
Gosh, Commish, could that be because you had no idea what you were talking about?
Now that the insanity over the law has waned, baseball would really like to just memory-hole the whole thing. The MLB-employed reporter charged with writing about the game being awarded to Atlanta was apparently not allowed to mention the 2021 debacle (or worse, didn’t think it relevant).
Georgia’s voting laws haven’t changed, but it’s good to see the MLB’s misguided understanding of them has.
We look forward to welcoming the All-Star Game to Georgia.
Go Braves! https://t.co/MGtOeg99rI
— Brian Kemp (@BrianKempGA) November 16, 2023
Manfred has not explained what has changed to his satisfaction because he can’t. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp took an understated victory lap, writing online that “Georgia’s voting laws haven’t changed, but it’s good to see the MLB’s misguided understanding of them has.”
This is not merely an abstract political or business debate. Real people were hurt when MLB ripped the 2021 game out of Atlanta — small businesses, hospitality workers, Uber drivers. Where do they go for an apology or restitution?
By the way, next year’s All-Star Game is scheduled for Globe Life Field, home of the world champion Texas Rangers. When Atlanta was abused in 2021, there was talk that Texas, too, should lose sporting and business events over various laws that national progressive groups just couldn’t tolerate.
Baseball’s backpedal should put an end to all that. But there are important lessons here about corporations weighing in on one side or the other of a heated political debate. Reasonable people can disagree, but when corporations only listen to certain arguments, they risk alienating a huge share of potential customers.
It’s a reminder for executives like Manfred to exercise a little humility, seek out more information and, most of all, stay in your lane.
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