The Georgia state legislature yesterday passed SB 202, the voting law that is probably best known as “You can now be arrested in the state of Georgia for giving food or water to people waiting on line to vote.” The law contains a ton of other provisions as well, though, like requiring an ID (rather than just a signature) when voting absentee, limiting the number of drop boxes for placing ballots in, and banning the use of mobile voting sites, among other things. It’s all a pretty transparent move by the Republican-led legislature to make it harder for people to vote who might vote against them, which mostly means African Americans who are more likely thanks to geography or income to be hampered by the new restrictions: The no-food-or-water rule, for example, was apparently inspired by a single white woman with a gun who was outraged that get-out-the-vote groups had been giving free pizza to people who were waiting on line to cast their ballots.
The new law is so restrictive, in fact, and so reminiscent of blatant Jim Crow–era attempts to disenfranchise Black people, that it’s drawn the attention of some in the sports world, who have suggested a boycott of the state along the lines of the actions taken after North Carolina passed its anti-transgender “bathroom law” in 2016 — actions that resulted in that law’s partial repeal one year later, and its eventual complete expiration at the end of 2020. MLB players association president Tony Clark said last week that baseball players were “very much aware” of the Georgia bill and that if there were a chance to discuss moving this summer’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta, he would “look forward to having that conversation.” And yesterday, an even more prominent president chimed in on behalf of that idea:
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he would strongly support Major League Baseball moving its All-Star Game from Atlanta after Georgia enacted new voting restrictions that disproportionately target Black residents.
“I think today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly. I would strongly support them doing that,” Biden said in an interview with EPSN SportsCenter host Sage Steele. “People look to them. They’re leaders.”
Obviously, Biden and other Democrats have a selfish reason to be promoting voting rights in this case: The people being disenfranchised are more likely to vote Democratic, which is the whole point of Republican legislators passing the law in the first place. (I mean, many of them probably also passed it because they just don’t like the idea of Black people deciding who runs their state, but then we’re getting into serious chicken-and-egg territory about the reasons why someone in Georgia would choose to become a Republican legislator.) But something can be in your self-interest and also the right thing to do, and … sorry, what were we talking about? Right, the All-Star Game!
It’s important to remember that MLB did not decide to hold its 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta because they felt the city deserved it or were under the delusion that Georgia would be a pleasant place to spend time in July. They did it because — here, let’s explain by way of a list of the last 10 All-Star Game hosts:
2012: Kansas City
2013: New York City
2016: San Diego
The common theme here is that the stadiums involved were new — or, in the cases of Kansas City and Cleveland, newly renovated. MLB has long used the All-Star Game as a reward for cities that have coughed up money for new or renovated ballparks; the last time it held the game at a stadium that wasn’t at least freshly refurbished was Yankee Stadium in 2008, and that was meant as a sendoff in advance of the Yankees’ new extremely-publicly-funded stadium opening the following year; before that, you have to go back to Fenway Park in 1999 to find an All-Star Game that wasn’t handed out as a prize for Most Willing To Subsidize League Profits With Public Money.
Moving this summer’s All-Star Game from Atlanta would no doubt be a logistical pain, though it isn’t all that much shorter notice (four months vs. seven) than the NBA had when it moved its 2017 All-Star Game out of North Carolina after passage of the anti-trans bill. As we were just discussing here last week, boycotts are strategies, not moral imperatives, and voting rights advocates in Georgia are still split on whether a North Carolina–style boycott is the best way to respond to SB 202. But if pressure builds to pull the game from Atlanta — say, maybe around Jackie Robinson Day, which is just two weeks from today — and MLB owners start to push back on it, that’ll likely less be about having to print up new merchandise or even the personal feelings of the almost uniformly white men who run the league, and more about interfering with sports owners’ underlying business plan of using carrots and sticks to maximize their profits.