MLB Moving All-Star Game from Atlanta Creates Political Hot Potato

Major League Baseball (MLB) recently made the decision to move the July 13, 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta, Georgia to a city to be named later.

The move was made in response to a new Georgia voting law that, depending on which side of the political fence one is on, either secures the elections in Georgia, or makes it harder for people to vote in Georgia. Critics of the new law call it a voter suppression measure and compare it to racist Jim Crow era laws. Proponents of the law note that they are just trying to make elections safer and more secure.

I will save the politics of the left versus right debate of the law for another day. I will say though that votes in Georgia for the 2020 election were counted four times and widespread voter fraud was not found. So, the new voting law might boil down to someone looking for a solution where a problem doesn’t exist, or it could scream of voter suppression and an attempt to silence a certain segment of the voting population in Georgia based on not liking the results of the last election.

Now that Major League Baseball set the ball in motion in terms of moving marquee events out of Atlanta in response to actions taken by the state legislative branch, time will tell if other events, like College Football’s Peach Bowl are moved out of Atlanta.
Photo R. Anderson

While some argue there are some good provisions in the new law, when it becomes criminal to offer someone waiting in line to vote a drink of water one has to question whether the legislation is really looking out for the welfare of the voters.

Either way, it is a political hot potato with passionate supporters on both sides that will likely ultimately be decided through litigation and perhaps a change in federal voting law. While the final fate of the voting process in Georgia is up in the air, MLB decided that in the current climate they did not want to be in Georgia for All-Star weekend.

MLB certainly has the power to decide where they want to play the All-Star Game. So, despite awarding the game to Atlanta back in 2019, MLB was completely within their rights as an organization to move the game to another city. However, much like the voting law has passionate backers and detractors, the move by MLB was also met with support by some, and condemnation by others.

Shortly after Major League Baseball announced that they were moving the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta, the Atlanta Braves made it clear to all who were listening that the decision to move the game was not made by them and that they did not agree with the move. Photo R. Anderson

Opponents of the game being moved cite that MLB caved to pressure from corporations and others in moving the game and missed an opportunity to draw attention to the very issue they are opposed to by taking their ball and going to another city.

In fact, the Atlanta Braves went on record as saying the decision to move the game was not theirs.

Wearing my cynical hat for a bit, the statement by the Braves about not making the decision to move the game sounds like an attempt by the team to distance themselves from the MLB decision in order to appease a certain subset of season ticket holders to avoid being a victim of “cancel culture.”

Had the game remained in Atlanta there likely would have been protests and other activities during All-Star Weekend that would have drawn attention to the issue of voting in Georgia and distracted from the true purpose of the All-Star weekend which is to create a bunch of for profit made for television events that give out bragging rights but not much else.

It also should be noted that had the All-Star Game been scheduled in Atlanta next year, or any other year for that matter, instead of this year it likely would not have been moved at all since the voting law would not have been as fresh in everyone’s mind. America is definitely a country of short attention spans and MLB just happened to roll the dice wrong and end up in Atlanta during a politically charged year.

So, faced with the possibly of protests, lost revenue from corporate sponsors, and the potential for players and at least one manager deciding to boycott the game, MLB did what many corporations do when faced with loud opposition from the people who write them big checks, they chose the road that they thought would best maintain their bottom line and standing within the community.

One should never underestimate the power of a sponsor threatening to withhold money when it comes to sports leagues and other entities dusting off their moral compasses, or at least fiscal compass during a variety of situations. I want to believe MLB did not let lost revenue factor into their decision but, if it walks and talks like sponsorship bucks, it usually is sponsorship driven.

Again, MLB was totally within their rights to move the game, but a case can definitely be made that keeping the game in Atlanta and using it as a platform for reform would have been a stronger statement. Lost in the debate about the game moving is the millions of dollars in local revenue that Georgia small businesses will lose since hotels, restaurants, and other establishments will no longer have the influx of people traveling to the All-Star Game.

Of course, it should be noted that we are still in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic so the idea of thousands of people traveling anywhere right now is likely keeping health officials and scientists up at night.

In response to MLB moving the All-Star Game, Texas governor Greg Abbott declined the Texas Rangers offer for him to throw out a first pitch at the home opener of the Rangers’ new Ballpark. When I saw that I laughed and laughed and laughed.

The governor grandstanding by refusing to throw out a pitch in front of his constituents based on something done 800 miles away in another state is a bit much. It should also be noted that Texas like many other states is trying to push through voter reform legislation which could make it harder for people to vote.

In response to MLB moving the All-Star Game, the Texas governor declined the Texas Rangers offer for him to throw out a first pitch at the home opener of the Rangers’ new Ballpark which replaced the open air sweat box that was Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Photo R. Anderson

So, with that context in mind one could see why the Texas governor would be so quick to side with the Georgia governor on the issue. Then again, this is the same man who often talks out of both sides of his mouth.

So, despite the Texas governor stating otherwise, perhaps his refusal to throw out the pitch in protest was really an invitation for MLB to move the All-Star Game to one of Texas’ two air-conditioned Ballparks.

While I really do not care where the All-Star Game is played this year, part of me really wants to see MLB call the governor’s bluff by offering to move the game to Texas so he has to go on record saying no to the millions of dollars in revenue that could go into the state economy.

Something tells me he will not still be vocally protesting the game leaving Georgia if those millions of dollars in revenue generated by the game come to Texas. But then again, the governor tends to change his mind faster than a Texas power plant goes dark in the middle of a freeze due to neglect.

My gut says the All-Star Game will get moved to Los Angeles, but it would definitely be interesting to see what would happen if MLB offered to come back to Texas.

The governors of Texas and Georgia are not alone in their anger towards MLB. Former President Donald Trump joined the conservative chorus of people seeking to punish MLB for its decision to move its All-Star Game out of Georgia by asking his red hat wearing faithful to boycott MLB.

Again, moving the game was totally within the foul poles of what MLB could do. By the same token, people certainly have the right to protest and/or boycott MLB for making the move.

Back when I was working on my Masters of Science in Sport Management, I studied many incidents where the worlds of sports and political protest collided. That is definitely a whole column series for another day.

While some argue that sports teams, league and athletes should just play the game and leave the politics out of it, professional and amateur athletes have long used their platforms to promote a political or social cause.

The invention and accessibility of social media platforms where athletes are less filtered through team media handlers to get their message out as created more opportunity for athletes from all sports and backgrounds to let their views be heard.

It was in part due to that chorus of athletes raising their voices in opposition to playing the All-Star Game in Atlanta which led to the game be relocated.

Of course, fans are free to agree or disagree with those views. The First Amendment guarantees people the right to state their opinion, but it does not guarantee the right that everyone will agree with it.

Time will tell where the 2021 MLB All-Star Game will take place. Time will also tell whether the action by MLB to move the game out of Atlanta to solve a short-term PR situation, will have long term impacts on the game, or if it will just be one of many blips in the history of the National Pastime.

One thing that is certain is in an ever-divided country, factions will continue to form and common ground will end up being not so common.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to warm up my throwing arm. I hear the Rangers suddenly have an opening for a ceremonial first pitch.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Washington Redskins Announce Name Change Without Announcing New Name

A week after celebrating their 88th birthday, the Washington Redskins are the ones giving out gifts by announcing that they ended their battle to maintain a nick name that a growing portion of society could no longer support.

While Native American groups had long called for the name of the franchise to be changed in order to remove what they considered a racial slur, ultimately it was the role of corporate partners threatening to withhold millions of dollars that moved the team kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who bought the team in 1999, famously told a reporter from USA Today back in 2013 that he would “NEVER” change the name of the team that he grew up rooting for, and became owner of. The full quote by Snyder being, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

A week after turning 88-years-old, the Washington Redskins announced that they were changing their name and logo.
Photo R. Anderson

A week after announcing the team would form a committee to look into changing the name, “Never” became, we are changing the name.

The ball started rolling when FedEx, which pays millions of dollars a year to put their name on the stadium the Redskins use, called for a new name for the team.

The all-out blitz continued when several companies took things a step further and stopped selling Redskins merchandise. Amazon, Walmart, Target, Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods, all removed Redskins merchandise from their websites last week. Nothing spurs change quite like a threat to the old wallet.

The new name was not announced during the press conference called to announce that the name would be changing. That is kind of like someone calling you to tell you that they sent you an email. Back in my Public Relations days, I would never have called a press conference just to give partial information. Oh, how times have changed.

To be fair to the Redskins, they did not announce the new name due to the need to secure trademarks for the new name before someone else tries to beat them to the trademark office. Back when there were rumblings about the team changing their name seven years ago, a Virginia man trademarked all of the potential names he could think of for the new team. Based on that ingenuity, they might as well call the team the Washington Capitalists.

Although a new name was not announced, the fact that a new name was coming was enough for Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez to release a statement stating that, “July 13, 2020 is now a historic day for all Indigenous peoples around the world as the NFL Washington-based team officially announced the retirement of the racist and disparaging “Redskins” team name and logo. This change did not come about willingly by the team’s owners, but by the mounting pressure and advocacy of Indigenous peoples such as Amanda Blackhorse, and many other warriors who fought long and hard for this change.”

The statement by President Nez went on to say that, “We strongly encourage the NFL Washington organization to rename their team in such a way that truly honors and respects the First Americans of this country. Renaming the team “Code Talkers” to honor the Navajo Code Talkers, and other tribal nations who used their sacred language to help win World War II, would set the team on a path to restoring its reputation and correcting the historical misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples.”

The same week that the Redskins announced they were changing their name, the Atlanta Braves announced that they had no intention of changing their team name, but would look into the possibility of doing away with the “Tomahawk Chop.”
Photo R. Anderson

The same week that the Redskins announced they were changing their name, the Atlanta Braves announced that they had no intention of changing their team name, but would look into the possibility of doing away with the “Tomahawk Chop.”

The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Chiefs are also facing increased pressure to change their names.

As I have noted before, I have rooted for the Redskins for as long as I can remember. My mom roots for the Redskins. My aunts and uncles root for the Redskins. For us, rooting for the Redskins through times of feast and famine was just what we did.

I follow other teams, but the Redskins were the first team I ever rooted for, and are the ones that hold the biggest place in my heart. In fact, here in the Gigaplex, there are at least 18 Washington Redskins related items on display that I collected over the course of my fandom.

Honestly, I would be lying if I said that a piece of my heart wasn’t broken based on the pending name change. Don’t get me wrong, I know that changing the name is the right thing to do, but as a lifelong fan, I have a little more skin in the game. Although I knew for years that the band aid needed to get ripped off, it still hurts.

As part of the end of the Washington Redskins era, I will need to decide whether I can keep my pieces of Redskin memorabilia on display to remind me of all of the memories I had, or if they should be taken down and placed in a crate and stored in a vast warehouse like the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark, never to be seen again.

This door knob decoration has been on a door in all of my bedrooms since I was in elementary school. With the Washington Redskins changing their name to be more inline with the times, the door decoration’s days may be numbered.
Photo R. Anderson

There will be a lot of soul searching between now and whenever the NFL returns again. In a way it is good that the idea of the NFL having a 2020 season is likely a pipe dream based on the current COVID-19 climate and the total lack of social distancing that comes with playing football.

By not having a 2020 season, fans of the team with the new name in Washington D.C. can have a year to mourn the death of the Redskins, and try to decide whether or not they will be on board with whatever the team becomes.

To be clear, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to turn America into the laughing stock of the world as it runs free through the country like a tourist with a FastPass at Walt Disney World, any thoughts of kicking off a 2020 NFL season in September belong in Fantasyland.

Seriously, how is the government still not providing a national strategy for combating a virus that has killed over 135,000 Americans?

America is the richest country in the world, and I used to think it was one of the smartest countries in the world when it came to uniting people together towards a common goal. The fact that we have people trying to discredit science, and refusing to do simple things to save lives like wearing masks is unfathomable.

If the Washington Redskins can begrudgingly see the light and change their name after years of resisting, people can wear a mask and social distance in order to contain COVID-19.

No house party with friends, or other social event, is worth the potential cost of lives. And yes, people of all ages can catch this disease regardless of political party affiliation.

We don’t have years to get this right, and the COVID-19 virus is not a hoax, no matter how many tweets are sent out calling it that.

As the 20th Century poet Marshall Bruce Mathers, III, so eloquently said, “Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip? Yo”

The Washington Redskins are seizing their opportunity to get on the right side of history. The rest of America needs to follow suit when it comes to battling COVID-19 so that life can return to normal.

If we don’t get this right, COVID-19 will continue hanging over all of us like the sword of Damocles. Based on the current state of the country, the Washington Damocles would be a very appropriate name for the Redskins to adopt.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to listen to Eminem while reading some ancient Greek fables.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson