Enough of all the fumfering around with complaints about “inadequate parking” or fans mostly living in the northern suburbs (even if they mostly work downtown). Somebody has finally cut to the chase about why the Atlanta Braves really want out of Turner Field:
If you aren’t from Atlanta, you don’t understand the type of neighborhood Turner Field was built in and the type of environment fans coming to the games had to contend with for years…
[Joe’s Laundry & Cleaners proprietor Paul Kwan] added, “We have to face reality; they’re moving because of crime.”
Kwan nodded from behind the heavy metal screen at his counter that makes him look like a jailbird.
A heavy metal screen at the counter of a laundry/cleaning business, to protect the owner and his employees from both his customers and the residents of the community surrounding Turner Field? That is the environment Atlanta Braves’ fans must endure before and most notably AFTER an evening of cheering on their hometown heroes.
The author of this piece — titled “Who wants to fight crime on way to ballpark?” — is none other than former Braves reliever John Rocker, who knows a little something about being terrified of city neighborhoods. But it’s hardly a unique opinion — you don’t have to scratch the surface of Braves fan commentary too hard to find the sentiment that driving downtown to Turner Field isn’t distasteful because of lack of parking or traffic tieups or fear of being haunted by the ghost of Chief Noc-a-Homa, but rather because of the immediate environs:
I'm excited about this new stadium. I love the Ted but the location is horrible. Glad we're moving away from the ghetto.
— Braves Talk (@Braves_Talk) November 11, 2013
— James Moore (@Moorepheus10) November 18, 2013
— Rob (@rcbGT) November 19, 2013
So, is the area surrounding Turner Field really a teeming mass of criminal activity? It’s not actually so much a neighborhood per se — a large chunk of the historically black neighborhood of Summerhill was bulldozed to make way for Turner Field — as a stadium-in-a-sea-of-parking with some residential areas adjacent to it. And if you look at a heatmap of crime stats, Turner Field and environs isn’t especially high-crime: There’s a moderate amount of crime in a small area to the southeast, and a fair bit of crime on the other side of the highway, but your chances of being a crime victim in and around the ballpark isn’t any greater than, for example, some areas right near the new stadium site in Cobb County.
Still, “Turner Field = downtown = crime” is certainly the perception among many Braves fans. And given that the missing piece of that equation appears to be “= ghetto,” it has a lot of people wondering if what suburban Braves fans are afraid of is something else entirely. “The real reason for the move? Separating the team’s largely white fanbase from Atlanta’s black residents,” wrote the International Business Times’ Eric Brown last week:
Atlanta itself is a majority-black city, with 54 percent of the population identifying as black. The Summerhill neighborhood surrounding Turner Field has an even larger black population: 89 percent. For many white, suburban Braves fans, the neighborhood surrounding Turner Field has never been particularly appealing, despite the fact that Summerhill boasts a lower crime rate than most of urban Atlanta.
It’s a line of reasoning that warrants even more consideration now that the Braves have proposed outfitting their new suburban stadium with a mock-urban walking district far from central Atlanta and the people who live there. And while the team’s MOU includes a mention of possibly extending public transit to the site from downtown Atlanta, Cobb County Republican chair Joe Dendy has already made clear that he wants any transit improvements to be solely for suburbanites: “It is absolutely necessary the solution is all about moving cars in and around Cobb and surrounding counties from our north and east where most Braves fans travel from, and not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta.” A sentiment that immediately found favor from several Braves fans tweeters:
— Richard Arce (@Richard_C_Arce) November 13, 2013
— Reggie (@TheRealReg12) November 13, 2013
This is way, way more complicated, obviously, than “Braves fans are racist.” Suburban attitudes toward urban neighborhoods are a complex stew of race, class, and rumor — I recall in the 1980s a friend of mine from Manhattan’s even-then-gentrified Upper West Side being asked by a college classmate if he felt safe walking around in his neighborhood unarmed — and it’s perfectly possible for someone to feel uneasy about going to Turner Field because they saw (or heard about) a crime there, or because they saw black people on the drive in and assumed that meant crime, or because they saw panhandlers and panhandlers mean the ghetto and the ghetto means run away. Or all, or none of the above.
Still, given that we’re talking here about the first baseball team in 40 years to move away from downtown to the suburbs — and that it’s baseball’s only team that resides in the Deep South, though Atlanta likes to pretend otherwise — it’s hard to see all this talk about fear of crime as a reason for the move without getting at least a little bit queasy about the racial dynamics at work. Even before it got John Rocker as its poster child.