Any notion that sports and politics do not intersect was largely imploded in 2020. Consider 2021 the year its biggest entities face the logistics of that head on.
Major League Baseball’s decision to yank the July 13 All-Star Game from Atlanta was undeniably political, coming as it did in the wake of Georgia’s adoption of a restrictive and racially unjust voting law.
And the decision on where the game goes now will be all the more politically loaded – though that doesn’t mean it is without opportunity.
Just as the decision to move the game was done, as commissioner Rob Manfred noted, after conversations with current and former players, franchises and the burgeoning Players’ Alliance, so, too, should a decision on the new site.
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MLB’s partnership with the Players’ Alliance was perhaps its most notable action during a year the league was initially caught flat-footed by nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd. While still not the “social institution” former commissioner Bud Selig hoped to be, the league was supportive in efforts by Black players to sit out a game after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The emergence of the Players’ Alliance kept Black voices in the game even if they’re no longer on the field, a crucial coalition at a time African-American players comprise just 8% of active players. In September, MLB and the MLB Players’ Association donated $10 million to the Players’ Alliance to further Black representation in baseball; MLB added another $1 million donation of equipment and supplies to help fuel the Alliance’s winter tour of disadvantaged neighborhoods as the COVID-19 pandemic surged.
That spirit of collaboration will hopefully prevail in making a thoughtful decision for All-Star Game 2021, Take II. A few suggestions:
In a year meant to honor Hank Aaron, who passed away in January, the only place potentially on par with Atlanta is Aaron’s first and last baseball home, where he played 12 seasons before the Braves departed for Atlanta, and a final season with Selig’s Brewers.
And Wisconsin will for the foreseeable future be a crucial state politically, where bad-faith political actors may always seek to curb voting rights and poll access.
It may seem folly to move a jewel event due to voter suppression and place it in a state where a handful of state lawmakers have circulated at least 10 bills that aim to make voting more difficult. At the same time, placing the game there now could appropriately amplify these issues, particularly if players are given a platform to discuss them.
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