A new op-ed in USA Today calls on the National Football League, National Basketball Association and National College Athletics Association to boycott Georgia over controversial changes to the state’s voting laws.
In the piece, USA Today Sports Race and Inequality Editor Mike Freeman commends Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred’s decision to pull the MLB All-Star Game from the city of Atlanta.
“If you want to know what courage looks like, look at Major League Baseball right now. They saw the naked, jingoistic racism of voter suppression in Georgia, and in response, decided to move this year’s All-Star game from the state,” Freeman wrote, later adding the move is “what guts look like.”
In turn, Freeman blasted the “cowardice” of the Atlanta Braves organization, which released a statement Friday saying they were “deeply disappointed” by the MLB decision and were “saddened” that their fans would not be able to enjoy the July game.
“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,” they wrote.
“Unfortunately, businesses, employees, and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision,” the Braves said.
Freeman said he was surprised the Braves were “able to use a laptop with their fingers shaking so much from fear of the voting suppression extremists” and called their press release a textbook definition of the phrase “tone deaf.”
He also hit at the Braves’ assertion that Atlanta has “always been known as a uniter in divided times,” writing that their claim “shows a level of historical ignorance that is stunning from people who should know better.”
“Atlanta may have been the center of the civil rights movement but to say it has always been a ‘uniter’ is a farce,” said Freeman. “No city in the South has always been a ‘uniter.’ No city in America has.”
It is notable that the Braves have come under fire before, announcing they would keep their more than 100-year-old name last summer amid a national conversation about racially insensitive logos and monikers.
However, they said they would review the chant known as the “Tomahawk Chop” and took action to remove a sign near an entrance to Truist Park with the team slogan “Chop On,” changing it to “For The A” ahead of the 2020 season.
A tomahawk — which looks similar to a hatchet — was traditionally used by Native Americans as a tool, a weapon and was sometimes ceremonial.
The Braves statement included a Braves logo with a tomahawk insignia.
In addition, Freeman said the Braves’ position was “acceptance of the racism of the new voting restrictions enacted by Republicans.”
He said the issue had no ambiguity: “There’s no other way to look at it. Either you are for democracy or you are not.”
Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp told “Fox & Friends Weekend” on Saturday that he would be “glad” to discuss any issues with the new voting law and that all MLB or other organizations had to do was pick up the phone.
He also argued that pushback from President Biden, Georgia activist Stacey Abrams and others on the legislation was a “political play,” a reversal of their previous position and did not actually address any of the specifics of the changes.
“But, you know, the end result was not because it went through the process. We worked with the House and the Senate with reasonable people, got things in there to provide even more access, but also just make sure that in Georgia it’s easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Kemp said. “And, I guess they don’t agree with that.”
He also called it “cancel culture” — which Freeman deems “coded language.”
Georgia’s new legislation places new restrictions on voting by mail, adds voter ID requirements and limits ballot drop boxes. It also mandates two Saturdays of early voting ahead of general elections, an increase from just one, and leaves two Sundays as optional.
Lastly, it bans outside groups from handing out food or water to those waiting in line to vote.
Biden has called the law “un-American” and “Jim Crow in the 21st Century,” and Abrams reprimanded Republicans for prioritizing “making it harder for people of color to vote over the economic well-being of all Georgians.”
“As I have stated, I respect boycotts, although I don’t want to see Georgia families hurt by lost events and jobs. Georgians targeted by voter suppression will be hurt as opportunities go to other states,” she wrote in a Friday statement. “We should not abandon the victims of GOP malice and lies — we must stand together.”
“This is an existential crisis and the Braves failed to meet the moment,” Freeman wrote in his op-ed. “But Manfred did and his actions can be a call to action for everyone.”
He said Manfred gave sports leagues and businesses a “roadmap” on how to fight back against the legislation, noting that “only baseball has demonstrated the proper amount of guts.”
“The Falcons could take similar steps by moving some of its games. The Hawks, too. The NFL could easily, and I mean easily, declare it will never hold a Super Bowl in Atlanta until voting rights are restored. The SEC could do the same with its championship game,” Freeman suggested.
“It is true that such boycotts would financially impact some working people of Atlanta like concession stand workers and businesses that thrive off the crowds attending the games,” he said. “But those same people are having their access to voting diminished with a bevy of suppression laws.”
Freeman said the new restrictions in the Republican-sponsored legislation are “draconian” and, echoing Biden, “un-American in every way.”
“Manfred did the right thing in fighting these laws. Every sport, every business in the country, could learn from what Manfred did. They could also learn from the Braves, on what not to do. On what gutlessness looks like,” he concluded.
Social media reaction to Freeman’s call to arms has been mixed, largely along party lines.
“An outstanding piece here,” former Canadian Football League player Troy Westwood said on Twitter.
“…have a feeling the 29 other teams would have released a similar statement,” said “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” Adam Kaufman.
“Yup. And one more reason to hate the racism endorsing @Braves,” said UC Davis Professor Jonathan Eisen.
“Let me first say that I am a lifelong @Braves fan. They are my team. Forever. This is a harsh takedown of the team’s management, but it’s criticism that, in my humble opinion, they deserve to face at the moment,” wrote Georgia native @BrysonUtd.
Republican Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks tweeted Saturday: “Who is racist? Those who support election laws that apply equally to all & promote honest & accurate elections? Or those who act as if African Americans are inferior & need ‘special help’ to follow laws no other race has problems with? Oppose racism!!!”
“The ‘race and inequality’ editor of the sports section of USA today thinks the NFL, NBA and NCAA should follow MLB’s lead,” Real Clear Politics co-founder Tom Bevan said. “Sure it will hurt working people and destroy businesses, but that’s a price he seems eagerly willing to pay.”
In his own tweets responding to the reaction, Freeman wrote that “Right wingers” were “big mad” over the column — telling him to “Get f****d” and lose his job and that he was getting called names and “being told to stay out of Georgia.”
“No,” he replied.
Freeman declined a request for comment from Fox News. The Atlanta Braves organization did not immediately respond.
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