April 2, 2021 11:59 AM PT (espn.com)
- Alden GonzalezESPN Staff Writer
Major League Baseball announced Friday that it is moving the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta in response to a new Georgia law that has civil rights groups concerned about its potential to restrict voting access for people of color.
The 2021 MLB draft, a new addition to All-Star Game festivities this year, will also be relocated.
In a statement, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the league is “finalizing a new host city and details about these events will be announced shortly.” A source told ESPN that the 2022 All-Star Game is still planned for Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and that that site won’t be moved up to fill the void this summer.
“Over the last week, we have engaged in thoughtful conversations with Clubs, former and current players, the Players Association, and The Players Alliance, among others, to listen to their views,” Manfred said in his statement. “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.
“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box. In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States. We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”
The Atlanta Braves said they were “deeply disappointed” by the outcome.
“This was neither our decision, nor our recommendation and we are saddened that fans will not be able to see this event in our city,” the team said in a statement. “The Braves organization will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities and we had hoped our city could use this event as a platform to enhance the discussion. Our city has always been known as a uniter in divided times and we will miss the opportunity to address issues that are important to our community.
“Unfortunately, businesses, employees and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision.”
The Players Alliance, consisting of more than 100 current and former players who have united in an effort to empower Black communities, came out in support of MLB’s decision with a statement that read in part: “We want to make our voice heard loud and clear in our opposition of the recent Georgia legislation that not only disproportionately disenfranchises the Black community, but also paves the way for other states to pass similarly harmful laws based largely on widespread falsehoods and disinformation.”
The White House said President Joe Biden supports the decision as well.
“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, former President Donald 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.” Former President Barack Obama, meanwhile, lauded the decision as honoring the legend of Braves great Hank Aaron.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law last week a sweeping, Republican-sponsored bill that includes new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are run. The bill, which also prohibits volunteers from distributing food and water for voters waiting in line, was finalized on March 25 roughly 15 miles from the Braves’ stadium, Truist Park.
The new voting law, SB202, came in the wake of the first Democratic victories in presidential and Senate elections in Georgia in a generation, which triggered repeated unproven assertions by Trump that the state’s election was fraudulent. Supporters of the new law have said it merely ensures election integrity and stamps out potential fraud, while critics have described it as a voter-suppression tactic that would make it more difficult for minorities, particularly people of color, to vote, citing how it reduces ballot access in urban communities that lean Democrat.
A recent examination of the 98-page bill by The New York Times identified 16 provisions that either hinder Georgians’ right to vote or strip power from state and local elections officials and give it to legislators.
The governor said in a statement that MLB “caved to fear” by moving the All-Star Game.
“I will not back down. Georgians will not be bullied,” Kemp said. “We will continue to stand up for secure, accessible, fair elections. Earlier today, I spoke with the leadership of the Atlanta Braves who informed me they do not support the MLB’s decision.”
Stacey Abrams, a Democratic former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and voting rights activist, tweeted about her disappointment but understanding over MLB’s decision.
“Like many Georgians, I am disappointed that the MLB is relocating the All-Star game; however, I commend the players, owners and League commissioner for speaking out,” Abrams wrote. “I urge others in positions of the leadership to do so as well.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, said she supports MLB’s decision. Atlanta will no doubt share in the economic loss, though the Braves’ home stadium is now located outside the city, in suburban Cobb County.
“Unfortunately, the removal of the MLB All-Star Game from Georgia is likely the first of many dominoes to fall until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed,” Bottoms said in a statement.
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who is to guide the National League All-Star team, applauded MLB for moving the game from Georgia.
“I think in a world now where people want and need to be heard — and in this particular case, people of color — for Major League Baseball to listen and do something about it, to be proactive, it sets a tone,” said Roberts, the son of a Black father and Japanese mother.
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said last Friday that he “would look forward” to discussions around moving the Midsummer Classic — slated for July 13 — out of Atlanta. Five days after that, Biden, who won Georgia by less than 12,000 votes, told SportsCenter he would “strongly support” such a decision, calling the new bill “Jim Crow on steroids.”
Despite moving the All-Star Game, Manfred said that “MLB’s planned investments to support local communities in Atlanta as part of our All-Star Legacy Projects will move forward” and that Aaron, who died in January, would still be celebrated during the All-Star festivities.
Atlanta has previously hosted the All-Star Game twice, in 1972 and 2000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.