Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day on April 15th. Each player will wear the number 42, and Commissioner Rob Manfred will praise the legacy of Robinson who broke the MLB Jim Crow color line in 1947, while also slapping his league on the back for, as his predecessor Bud Selig put it, he “Leader in the civil rights movement.”
This ceremony is always awkward given the lack of black American managers and executives. It’s also uncomfortable because the reality of integration in the field, but the deletion in the front office, drew the explicit wrath of Robinson himself, who spoke about this loophole shortly before his death almost 50 years ago.
But this year the cake for cognitive dissonance is on. Major League Baseball will host its all-star game in Georgia, the state that has now given a safe haven to the most restrictive, racist electoral laws in the United States. Pressure is already mounting on the MLB to follow the steps of the NBA, which moved its all-star game from North Carolina in 2017 after the state passed ugly anti-trans laws known as “bathroom bills,” and then the city suspended from Charlotte’s efforts to keep this harmful law out of their city. The NFL famously moved the 1993 Super Bowl out of Arizona when the state decided not to recognize Martin Luther King’s birthday.
Now Major League Baseball will be in the difficult position of saying “Hurray for Jackie Robinson” in the state of Robinson’s birth after that state’s legislature gutted black voting rights. For Major League Baseball, it would be a boon not only financially but also ideologically for the state to have its All-Star Game in Georgia. When the national pastime holds its main event in Georgia, it gives a patina of Americana to a state that codifies one of the more obscene parts of that country’s history. If, in the words of Dr. King really was “a sit down before sitting, a freedom rider before freedom” and his entry into the majors was the harbinger of the black struggle for freedom of the 1950s and 1960s, then holding the game in Georgia is a formidable spittoon in the face of everything he represents.
It’s not just random sports journalists pointing this out. National League all-star manager, LA Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts, said he wouldn’t be running the team if the game were to take place in Georgia. Tony Clark, the head of the MLB Players Association, said in an interview with The Boston Globe“Players are very aware of the bill”. He also said: “Regarding the All-Star game, we have not had a discussion with the league on the matter. If the opportunity presents itself, we would look forward to this conversation. “In addition, the ACLU announced on Tuesday that it would challenge the law in court. The question now is which side of Major League Baseball is on: suffrage or repression.
There are progressive figures in Georgia who have rejected calls for boycotts. State Senator Jen Jordan said in a message to the left, “Stop this boycott nonsense in Georgia.” But Stacey Abrams, whose own gubernatorial campaign was stolen by Governor Brian Kemp (think Lester Maddox without the handsome charm), has specifically declined to reject calls for boycotts. Hillary Holley, an executive at Abrams’ organization Fair Fight, tweeted“GA is just the beginning, and business leaders must make a decision NOW: stand with Jim Crow 2.0 and the US Capitol insurgents, or stand with democracy.”
There is a growing awareness that Georgia has become ground zero in the fight against voter suppression. Major League Baseball has an opportunity right now to live up to Jackie Robinson’s creed when he said, “All of these people who said we made it through athletics just aren’t like that. You as an individual can do it, but I can think we have to deal with the masses of the people – not what happens to the individual. ”
When Major League Baseball is celebrating Robinson, fans, players, and the union have the right to hold up a mirror to their actions. As ESPN commentator Jay Bilas often says of the NCAA, “Don’t look at what they say. Look at what they do.” That is absolutely true here. They will say a lot on Jackie Robinson Day. is what they are to doand if what they are to do provide material and ideological support to a racist governor, then do the devil’s job.