Major League Baseball announced Friday that they are moving the All-Star Game and the MLB Draft out of Atlanta in the aftermath of Georgia enacting a new law critics say disproportionately affects voters of color.
"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," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.
"Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box," Manfred continued, touting the league's get-out-the-vote efforts in the 2020 election.
"Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support," he added.
The Georgia law adds a photo ID requirement for voting absentee by mail, cuts the amount of time people have to request an absentee ballot, and limits where drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed. It also bans people from handing out food or water to voters waiting in line and allows the Republican-controlled State Election Board to remove and replace county election officials while curtailing the power of the secretary of state as Georgia’s chief elections officer.
Critics say it will disproportionately affect communities of color.
At a press conference Saturday, Geogia Gov. Brian Kemp said that the league "caved to fear and lies from liberal activists" and pledged to defend the bill and stand up for "free and fair elections" in the face of boycotts abd lawsuits.
"I want to be clear: I will not be backing down from this fight. We will not be intimidated, and we will also not be silenced,” Kemp said, adding: "Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola and Delta may be scared of Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden and the left, but I am not."
The bill is part of a wave of GOP-backed efforts in statehouses nationwide to restrict voting access in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump's false claims that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, which he lost.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states as of March 24, 2021, a 43% increase from Feb. 2021.
In a statement Friday, the Atlanta Braves, who were set to host the game at their home stadium, Truist Park, said they were "deeply disappointed" by the league's decision and are "saddened that fans will not be able to see this event in our city."
"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," the team continued. "Our city has always been known as a uniter in divided times and we will miss the opportunity to address issues that are important in our community."
"Unfortunately, businesses, employees, and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision," they added.
Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, a major voting rights advocate and possible Kemp challenger in 2022, said that she was "disappointed" in the league's decision to move the game, but is "proud of their stance on voting rights."
"GA GOP traded economic opportunity for suppression," Abrams said. "On behalf of PoC targeted by #SB202 to lose votes + now wages, I urge events & productions to come & speak out or stay & fight."
The two previous former presidents offered divergent opinions on the law: Donald Trump called for a boycott of the league, but Barack Obama applauded the league "for taking a stand on behalf of voting rights for all citizens."
"There’s no better way for America’s pastime to honor the great Hank Aaron, who always led by example," he added.
In an interview with ESPN on Wednesday, President Joe Biden said he’d “strongly support” such a move and applauded sports figures who are speaking out against the law. Georgia Republicans who passed the legislation argue it will strengthen election security, but critics have blasted it as a blatant attempt to suppress left-leaning voters after Democrats won in Georgia in the presidential election and two U.S. Senate races.
“I think today's professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly,” Biden said. “People look to them. They're leaders. Look at what's happened with the NBA as well. Look what's happening across the board. The very people who are victimized the most are the people who are the leaders in these various sports. And it's just not right.”
The move is not unprecedented. In 2017, the NBA moved its All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans in response to North Carolina’s newly passed law mandating transgender people use public restrooms corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificates.
Georgia is feeling increasing pressure from the corporate world since Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill last week. Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines — both headquartered in Atlanta — have condemned the voting law after facing calls for boycotts.
"This legislation is wrong, it needs to be remedied, and we will continue to advocate for it, both in private and in now even more clearly in public," Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey told CNBC on Wednesday.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian called Georgia's voting law "unacceptable" and said that the "entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie,” former President Donald Trump’s false claims about widespread election fraud.
And more than 70 Black business leaders have signed an open letter calling for corporate America to take action against restrictive voting laws.
“This is Jim Crow on steroids what they're doing in Georgia and 40 other states,” Biden told ESPN. “Imagine passing the law saying you cannot provide water or food for someone standing in line to vote. Can't do that? Come on! Or you're going to close a polling place at 5:00 when working people just get off. This is all about keeping working folks and ordinary folks that I grew up with from being able to vote.”
Kemp has insisted the law has been misrepresented. He accused businesses of ignoring their role in its development.
MLB has not announced what cities will now host the events.
Spectrum News' Ryan Chatelain contributed to this report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.