- PROGRAMMING NOTE: Watch the latest episode of "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" on NBC Sports Bay Area immediately following Giants Postgame Live on Friday, July 9 at 10:30 p.m. PT.
The stick-to-sports narrative is dying a richly deserved death, largely due to the fact that American sports always has linked arms with politics, and we’re seeing droplets of evidence coming from some of the unlikeliest of places.
For example, Major League Baseball, which prides itself on being the most tradition-bound sport in the land.
When players are introduced for the 2021 All-Star Game next Tuesday, they will be standing not at Truist Park in metropolitan Atlanta but rather at Coors Field in Denver – all because MLB decided, in essence, that Georgia was too racist for its midsummer classic.
That’s right. When Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed the state’s new restrictive voting law (S.B.202) in March, Georgia in this instance went too far to the right for what once was America’s pastime. MLB pulled the game eight days after Kemp signed the bill.
It must be said, too, that the public relations element is considerable, as MLB wanted no part of the controversy sure to come its way had the game remained in Georgia.
Who’d have thought that at this time in our lives, when many ultraconservative Americans are twisting simple health measures into a political knot, that the oldest tree in our sports forest would grow a progressive leaf?
Nobody was more surprised than national sports columnist Terence Moore, who has covered baseball for more than 40 years, the last 37 in Atlanta. He joined Chicago baseball writer Mark Gonzales in discussing the subject on “Race in America: A Candid Conversation,” which premieres Friday night after the Giants-Nationals game on NBC Sports Bay Area.
“Baseball historically has lived off of April 15, 1947. That’s when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier,” Moore says. “They’ve been patting themselves on the back ever since, like ‘Look what we did: We let a black person play baseball.’ Well, it should go a little bit further than that.
“So, the fact that baseball finally got it right, saw the racism that was involved in this Georgia law, and came out immediately and said, ‘Look, we’re out of there.’ . . . Given baseball’s past, this was a step in the right direction, a very unusual step in the right direction for Major League Baseball when it comes race relations and social injustice.”
MLB is the sport that has given us two of the most outspoken reactionary athletes of our time, Curt Schilling and Aubrey Huff. MLB is the sport in which the number of Black players has slowed to a trickle over the last 40 years.
MLB is the sport in which, even in 2021, Black players are wise to carefully consider how they address racial issues.
Legislation of the Georgia bill began shortly after former President Donald Trump, after losing the state in the 2020 election, made unsubstantiated claims of rampant voter fraud. The bill, put forth as the Election Integrity Act, was formulated as a response to Trump’s inability to overturn the election result.
Moreover, it is widely considered hostile to Black voters. The New York Times said the bill will “curtail ballot access for voters in booming urban and suburban counties, home to many Democrats.” President Joe Biden famously referred to the bill as “Jim Crow on steroids.”
There is no doubt the purpose of the bill, like those being enacted in 13 other states, is to make voting more difficult for people of color – a demographic generally treated with indifference by MLB.
“I really do think that baseball really showed initiative in making this bold move,” says Gonzales, who has spent the last 16 seasons covering the White Sox and the Cubs for the Chicago Tribune. “But, also, they’re following what some of the other professional sports have done.”
Gonzales cited the NFL’s response in 1991, when it decided to pull Super Bowl XXVII out of Arizona after voters rejected the concept of making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday. He also recalled the more recent move by the NBA, pulling its 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte in the wake of a North Carolina law that banned transgender persons from using bathrooms in accordance with gender identity.
Less than a year after the NFL pulled its marquee event out of Arizona, the state voted to recognize the King holiday. The NFL has since hosted three Super Bowls in Arizona.
North Carolina needed two years to alter its transgender law. The NBA played its 2019 All-Star Game in Charlotte.
Will MLB’s political decision prove as influential as those made by the NFL and NBA? Possibly, but not likely anytime soon in Georgia because the new law is designed to usurp the power of those likely to fight it. MLB, at the urging of the Players' Alliance and Players' Association director Tony Clark, has made its call.
The future will tell us whether this is the first of the many steps toward equality, or one-time improvisation.