By Mark Osborne and Quinn Scanlan, ABC News
(ATLANTA) — MLB has moved this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta following controversy generated by Georgia’s restrictive new voting law.
“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,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “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.”
Manfred said the new host city and details about events will be announced “shortly.”
At a press conference on Saturday, Gov. Brian Kemp slammed MLB’s decision, saying, “I will not be backing down from this fight.”
“MLB caved to fear and lies from liberal activists,” Kemp said. “They ignored the facts of our new election integrity law and they ignored the consequences of their decision on our community.”
Kemp blamed Democrats, including President Joe Biden and former Georgia Rep. Stacey Abrams, for MLB’s decision.
“Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola and Delta may be scared of Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden and the left, but I am not and we are not,” said Kemp, echoing his sentiments made in a statement issued Friday that MLB’s “knee-jerk reaction” was because “cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included.”
The Atlanta Braves said in a statement that the team was “deeply disappointed” by the decision and that “this was neither our decision, nor our recommendation and we 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 have the discussion.”
The new law, passed by the Georgia House and Senate and signed by Kemp on March 25, has generated controversy due to several limits it puts on voting in the state. The bill passed along party lines, with Republicans vocally supporting it and Democrats calling it voter suppression.
Republicans contend it will streamline elections and increase confidence in the process following outrage from Republicans and former President Donald Trump over his defeat in the presidential election and Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock winning runoff elections in January.
Critics see it differently, contending it’s meant to suppress the votes of historically disenfranchised communities, namely Black voters.
The chief executives of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola forcefully condemned the bill on Wednesday, a change from prior public stances. After the bill passed, Delta’s CEO praised aspects of it while a Coca-Cola executive said the corporation was “disappointed in the outcome.” Neither corporation publicly opposed the bill before it was signed into law despite mounting pressure from a coalition of voting rights and civil liberties groups.
Biden has condemned the new law in and voiced support for moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta in an interview with ESPN.
“I think today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly,” Biden said. “I would strongly support them doing that. People look to them. They’re leaders.”
Ossoff has said he disagreed with Biden over moving the game, and Warnock issued a statement calling MLB’s decision an “unfortunate consequence” resulting from “politicians seeking to retain power at the expense of Georgians’ voices.”
“It is my hope,” Warnock added, “that businesses, athletes and entertainers can protest this law not by leaving Georgia but by coming here and fighting voter suppression head on, and hand-in-hand with the community.”
Abrams, who’s led the charge for increased access to voting in Georgia, posted a video to Twitter on Wednesday asking for companies not to boycott the state.
“I understand the passion of those calling for boycotts of Georgia following the passage of SB 202,” she said in the video. “Boycotts have been an important tool throughout our history to achieve social change. But here’s the thing: Black, Latino, AAPI and Native American voters whose votes are the most suppressed under SB 202 are also the most likely to be hurt by potential boycotts of Georgia. To our friends across the country, please do not boycott us.”
Former President Barack Obama on Friday tweeted his congratulations to MLB for “taking a stand.”
Kemp and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston criticized Abrams for MLB moving the game even though she doesn’t support the boycott.
“Republicans who passed and defended Senate Bill 202 did so knowing the economic risks to our state. They prioritized making it harder for people of color to vote over the economic well-being of all Georgians,” Abrams said in a statement following the announcement of the All-Star Game leaving Atlanta. “Like many Georgians, I am disappointed that the MLB is relocating the All-Star game; however, I commend the players, owners and League commissioner for speaking out.”
MLB reiterated its support for voting access in its statement and called attention to the voter initiatives it undertook last season.
“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Manfred’s statement continued. “In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States.”
“We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process,” Manfred continued. “Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”
Freddie Freeman, the Braves’ top player and the National League MVP in 2020, said Thursday before the team’s season opener that he’d prefer the league kept the game in Atlanta and used it as a way to call attention to the law and the importance of access to voting.
“I think it’d be better to keep it and use a platform,” Freeman told reporters. “What’s happened in the last couple of months has already gone through, so why not use what we already have here as a platform in the city and state that it has been passed through?”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat who called the elections bill both “ridiculous” and “unnecessary,” predicted more fallout.
“Just as elections have consequences, so do the actions of those who are elected. Unfortunately, the removal of the @MLB All Star game from GA is likely the 1st of many dominoes to fall, until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed,” she tweeted.
On the same day MLB pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta, Milwaukee made a pitch to host the game, with Mayor Tom Barrett writing a letter to Manfred that read, in part: “As you review alternative sites for the game, I ask you to consider Milwaukee. It is a particularly appropriate location to honor Hank Aaron who is a revered and beloved former Milwaukeean. He started and concluded his Major League career with teams here.”
The All-Star Game was last held in Milwaukee in 2002 at what was then known as Miller Park.
“We are finalizing a new host city,” Manfred said in his statement, “and details about these events will be announced shortly.”
ABC News’ Aaron Katersky, Rick Klein, Justin Gomez and Marlene Lenthang contributed to this report.
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