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MLB reminds us that sports can drive change

When the MLB announced their decision to move the MLB All Star Game and MLB Draft from Atlanta, it was a move that no one expected. It was even more shocking to learn that the reason for the abrupt change is directly tied to Georgia’s new law that makes it more difficult for minorities to vote in elections.

Nonetheless it was a powerful statement that reiterates the influence sports can have in driving change.

Commissioner of Baseball Robert D. Manfred, Jr. issued the following statement on the matter shortly after the MLB’s announcement:

“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. 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.”

Considering that the MLB hasn’t always been a strong voice when it comes to racial discrimination, this is a case when it’s better late than never. Their stance on Georgia’s law brought national attention to an important matter that was not on the forefront on everyone’s mind.

With that being said, their decision spawned widespread reactions of anger to celebration from fans, celebrities, and fellow MLB teams.

Furthermore, the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins organization’s spoke out after the fact but shared very different sentiments.

Instead of supporting the MLB’s decision in the same way that the Marlins did, the Braves essentially condemned their efforts. It’s understandable that they are disappointed but the statement solidified that the league was right to move on to another location.

While the MLB is the latest sports league to move a high-profile event from a city based on political or social reasons, it isn’t the first to do so.

In 1993, the National Football League moved Super Bowl XXVII from Arizona to Pasadena, California after Arizonans voted down an initiative to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day an official holiday. Arizona quickly changed their viewpoint a year later and the NFL has returned to the state for events such as Super Bowl XLIX which took place in Phoenix.

Additionally, the NBA moved the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans because of a North Carolina law passed in 2016 that prevented local governments from extending civil rights protection to gay and transgender people. After the state repealed portions of the law, Charlotte hosted the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.

The past year has empowered major sports leagues to address social inequities after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers resulted in nationwide protests and more athletes using their platform to shed light on a longstanding problem in this country. We have seen these efforts encourage conversations and actions that would normally not happen.

The fact of the matter is if people don’t feel impacted by an issue, they don’t care. What people do care about is sports.

Sports can force action when leagues are not afraid to get involved in sensitive political and social issues that plague our society. Based on previous precedent, moving large sporting events from states that violate basic human rights has resulted in a shift of mindset.

There’s hope for the All-Star game to return to Atlanta if they act accordingly. In the meantime, the MLB will is taking their money maker to Coors Field in Denver, Colorado.