Major league baseball’s decision to pull the All-Star game away from Atlanta has provoked outrage on the right.
The MLB did so to distance the game from the Georgia state government’s attempts to rig elections. The Georgia legislature passed and Georgia’s governor, Republican Brian Kemp, signed into law a measure that, among other things, would:
- Expand early voting in rural and largely Republican counties while limiting it in urban and largely Democratic (and Black) ones.
- Shorten the time to request absentee ballots and make it illegal for election officials to mail absentee ballots to all voters.
- Make it almost impossible for a person who mistakenly goes to the wrong polling place to vote.
- Make it much more difficult to extend voting hours, even if there is some problem that is not the fault of the voters.
- Make it a crime to bring food or water to voters waiting in line.
- Strip much of the control over balloting from local election officials, who are in cities often Democrats, and place it in the hands of the legislature, which is in the hands of Republicans.
The point of the law is clear. Republicans in Georgia want to make it easier for Republicans to vote and harder for Democrats.
It’s hardball politics.
Republicans in the state meant to hit Democrats where they were tender and could be hurt. And, if the measure stands—there already are several legal challenges filed—it likely will have some effect.
But the thing about playing hardball is that you can’t complain if something fast and hard comes back your way.
That’s what has happened here.
Corporate America reacted with fury to the Georgia measure. Georgia business giants Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines both condemned the new law.
Coke no longer is a sponsor of the MLB as a whole, but it does sponsor most major league baseball franchises. So the decision to pull the All-Star game shouldn’t have come as a shock.
Social conservatives have expressed outrage over this latest example of what they call “corporate virtual-signaling.”
This was all but inevitable following the 2014 Hobby Lobby U.S. Supreme Court decision. In that ruling, the nation’s highest court—in its infinite wisdom—decided corporations have the same First Amendment rights as individual citizens.
Conservatives were thrilled then.
That’s because the court had affirmed Hobby Lobby’s “right” to refuse on religious grounds to pay for employees’ health insurance if that insurance included birth control and other reproductive rights coverage. Conservatives saw this as a blow against Obamacare.
But granting corporations First Amendment protections meant granting them rights of conscience.
That has proved problematic for conservatives when corporations’ rights of conscience also coincide with their business interests—particularly when those interests focus on expanding markets and securing diverse pools of talent.
Most professional sports now face a problem. Their customer base is aging and overwhelmingly white. The major American professional sport with the youngest customer median age—the National Basketball Association—still clocks in at the mid-40s.
That’s a good half-dozen years older than the median age for the United States.
The pro sports need to break out of that straitjacket. The way to do that does not include offending huge numbers of potential customers—or, for that matter, players.
For the record, I thought the Hobby Lobby decision was a mistake, both on the merits and for the effect it was likely to have.
The merits first.
Part of the point of forming a limited liability corporation—an LLC—is to establish that it is separate from oneself. That allows an owner to protect her or his personal assets from suit or other legal action against the business. The Hobby Lobby decision shredded the notion that an LLC is separate from owners and their beliefs, so why then should their personal assets be protected from misfortune?
Then there’s the issue of individual autonomy. Employers pay for employees’ labor and skills. They don’t buy employees’ souls.
The effects of that wrongheaded decision now loom large over the national landscape.
Because businesses now have rights of conscience, they are expected to demonstrate to their customers that they have consciences. This means American business has become more and more political.
Don’t expect that to stop with the All-Star game.
Or this latest fight.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.