Major League Baseball announced Friday that it was moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta's Truist Park over the league’s objections to sweeping changes to Georgia voting laws that critics — including the CEOs of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola — have condemned as being too restrictive.
The decision to pull the July 13 game from Atlanta’s Truist Park amounts to the first economic backlash against Georgia for the voting law that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp quickly signed into law March 25.
Kemp has insisted the law’s critics have mischaracterized what it does, yet GOP lawmakers adopted the changes largely in response to false claims of fraud in the 2020 elections by former President Donald Trump and his supporters. The law includes new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are run.
MLB had awarded the game to Atlanta in May 2019 and the game was scheduled for July 13 as part of baseball's midsummer break that includes the Futures Game on July 11 and Home Run Derby the following night.
Commissioner Rob Manfred made the decision to move the All-Star events and the amateur draft, which had been scheduled to be held in Atlanta for the first time. A new ballpark for this year's events wasn't immediately revealed.
MLB's announcement came eight days after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a sweeping Republican-sponsored overhaul of state elections that includes new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are run.
Manfred made the decision after discussions with the Major League Baseball Players Association, individual players and the Players Alliance, an organization of Black players formed after the death of George Floyd last year.
"Over the last week, we have engaged in thoughful conversations with Clubs, former and current players, the Players Association, and The Players Alliance, among others, to listen to their views. I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year's All-Star Game and MLB Draft," Manfred said in a statement. "Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.."
The White House said President Joe Biden supports the decision.
"The President has made his concerns about the bill passed in Georgia clear, given its extreme provisions that impact the ability of so many citizens to cast their votes," the White House said. "He said earlier this week that if the decision was made by Major League Baseball to move the All-Star game, he would certainly support that decision – and now that MLB has made that choice, he certainly does."
In a statement, Trump blasted the move and urged his supporters to "boycott baseball and all of the woke companies that are interfering with Free and Fair Elections."
Kemp called MLB's action a "knee-jerk decision" that means "cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included. If the left doesn’t agree with you, facts and the truth do not matter."
"This attack on our state is the direct result of repeated lies from (President) Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams about a bill that expands access to the ballot box and ensures the integrity of our elections," Kemp said in a statement, referring to the Democratic candidate whom he narrowly defeated in the 2018 election. "I will not back down. Georgians will not be bullied."
Georgia state House Speaker David Ralston, a powerful Republican, vowed to stand behind the new law, which adds strict identification requirements for voting absentee by mail, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime to hand out food or water to voters waiting in line, among many other provisions.
One of baseball’s biggest stars, Braves first baseman and reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman, weighed in on the divisive issue Thursday, just a few hours before Atlanta opened the season in Philadelphia.
Freeman suggested that the game should remain at Truist Park, but be used as a platform to promote voting rights.
"Why not?" he said. "What’s happened in the last couple of months has already gone through" the state Legislature and been signed into law last week by Gov. Brian Kemp.
"Why not use what we already have here as a platform in the city and the state it’s been passed through," Freeman added. "I think it would be better to keep it (in Atlanta) and use it as a platform."
Others have taken a different tack.
Everyone from President Biden to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to the head of baseball’s powerful players union, Tony Clark, saying that moving the game to another city should be on the table.
Two of Atlanta’s sports team owners also seemed to express their opposition to the law in statements that bemoaned restrictions on voting access, though neither specifically cited the new statute.
"Every voice and every vote matters and should be heard through our democratic process in Georgia," said Arthur Blank, owner of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United. "We should be working to make voting easier, not harder for every eligible citizen."
Other sports have moved high-profile events because of social issues.
In the early 1990s, the NFL shifted the Super Bowl out of Arizona after the state failed to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day an official holiday.
The NBA moved the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, North Carolina, when the league took issue with a state law that cut anti-discrimination protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The NCAA for years didn’t hold championships in states where the Confederate battle flag was officially recognized.
This year’s All-Star Game will include honoring Hank Aaron, the Braves’ Hall of Famer and former career home run champion who died on Jan. 22 at age 86.
"We will continue with our plans to celebrate the memory of Hank Aaron during this season’s All-Star festivities," Manfred said. "In addition, MLB’s planned investments to support local communities in Atlanta as part of our All-Star legacy projects will move forward. We are finalizing a new host city and details about these events will be announced shortly."
MLB canceled last year's All-Star Game, which had been scheduled for Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, due to the late and shortened season caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The 2022 game will be played at Dodger Stadium.
MLB has awarded the 2026 All-Star Game to Philadelphia as part of the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
The 1972 All-Star Game was played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and the 2000 All-Star Game was at Atlanta's Turner Field.
With the Associated Press.
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