Atlanta lost Major League Baseball’s summer All-Star Game on Friday over the league’s objections to sweeping changes to Georgia voting laws that critics — including the CEOs of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola — have condemned as being too restrictive.
The decision to pull the July 13 game from Atlanta’s Truist Park amounts to the first economic backlash against Georgia for the voting law that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp quickly signed into law March 25.
Kemp has insisted the law’s critics have mischaracterized what it does, yet GOP lawmakers adopted the changes largely in response to false claims of fraud in the 2020 elections by former President Donald Trump and his supporters. The law includes new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are run.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made the decision to move the All-Star events and the amateur draft from Atlanta after discussions with individual players and the Players Alliance, an organization of Black players formed after the death of George Floyd last year, the commissioner said in a statement. A new ballpark for the events wasn’t immediately revealed.
Manfred said he also spoke with the Major League Baseball Players Association, which at the time of the commissioner’s decision said it had still not taken a stance.
“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. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”
Kemp called it a “knee-jerk decision” that means “cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included. If the left doesn’t agree with you, facts and the truth do not matter.”
“This attack on our state is the direct result of repeated lies from (President) Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams about a bill that expands access to the ballot box and ensures the integrity of our elections,” Kemp said in a statement, referring to the Democratic candidate whom he narrowly defeated in the 2018 election. “I will not back down. Georgians will not be bullied.”
Georgia state House Speaker David Ralston, a powerful Republican who backed the voting law changes, said the baseball league’s decision “robs Georgians of a special celebration of our national pastime free of politics.”
Like other Republicans in the state, Ralston vowed to stand behind the new law, which adds strict identification requirements for voting absentee by mail, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime to hand out food or water to voters waiting in line, among many other provisions.
Georgia Republicans say changes were needed to maintain voter confidence in the election system. Democrats and voting rights groups say the law will disproportionately affect communities of colour. On Wednesday, two of Georgia’s most prominent business leaders sided with the law’s opponents.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian labeled the law “unacceptable,” while Coca-Cola chief executive James Quincey called the legislation a “step backward.”
The Atlanta Braves issued a statement Friday saying the team is disappointed by Manfred’s decision.
“We are saddened that fans will not be able to see this event in our city,” the team said. “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.”
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who is to coach the National League All-Star team, applauded the MLB for moving the game from Georgia.
“I think in a world now where people want and need to be heard — and in this particular case, people of colour — for Major League Baseball to listen and do something about it, to be proactive, it sets a tone,” Roberts said.
Abrams, who has championed voting rights since her loss to Kemp, blasted the new law. The Democrat is being closely watched to see if she seeks a rematch against Kemp in 2022.
“Georgia Republicans must renounce the terrible damage they have caused to our voting system and the harm they have inflicted on our economy,” Abrams said.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, said she supports the MLB’s decision. Atlanta will no doubt share in the economic loss, though the Braves’ home stadium is now located outside the city, in suburban Cobb County.
“Unfortunately, the removal of the MLB All-Star Game from Georgia is likely the first of many dominoes to fall until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed,” Bottoms said in a statement.
Some Democrats from the Georgia county where the game was to be held said they oppose the MLB’s move. Lisa Cupid, the Black chairwoman of the Cobb County Commission, said she urged the league to stay rather than harm hotels and other businesses still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.
State Rep. Anulewicz, a Democrat whose district includes the stadium, added: “I don’t know who Major League Baseball feels they are punishing. The governor, from his statement, has made clear he doesn’t feel he is being punished.”
The relocation of high-profile sports events from cities in response to social issues has a long history in the U.S.
The NFL originally awarded the 1993 Super Bowl to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, but decided in March 1991 to move it to Pasadena, California, after the state failed to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day an official holiday. Arizona became the last state to adopt an MLK Holiday when voters approved it in November 1992.
The NBA first scheduled its 2017 All-Star Game at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, then shifted it in July 2016 because of its objections to a North Carolina law that limited anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The law was partially repealed in 2017, and the 2019 All-Star Game was held in Charlotte.
The NCAA executive committee decided in 2001 to ban awarding championship sites in advance to states that displayed the Confederate flag but did not alter events whose sites were determined by seeding or ranking. That was expanded last June by the renamed body, the Board of Governors, to prevent any NCAA championship event from being played where the flag had a prominent presence. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a law less than two weeks later to retire the flag.
Manfred said despite the change of venue, the MLB still plans to use the All-Star Game this year to honour Hank Aaron, the Braves’ Hall of Famer and former career home run champion who died on Jan. 22 at age 86.
Blue Jays optimistic Jose Berrios won’t miss next start after abdominal scare – Sportsnet.ca
After the Blue Jays’ 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the team reported that Berrios left the game due to abdominal tightness on his left side and received post-game treatment.
Berrios threw seven innings of one run ball Tuesday, striking out six and allowing only four hits.
“He’s doing fine,” Montoyo said. “He’s doing a lot better than we thought, which is great news. Actually, you might get to see him playing catch in a little bit to see how he’s doing. He did all the tests. Everything looks good.”
The right-handed pitcher who the Blue Jays acquired at the trade deadline is 11-8 on the season, with a 3.43 ERA in 173.1 innings pitched.
The Blue Jays wrap up their series with the Rays on Wednesday at 3:07 p.m. ET/ 12:07 p.m. PT on Sportsnet and SN Now.
France to open Billie Jean King Cup defence against Canada
Reigning champions France will kick off this year’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Prague against Canada on Nov. 1, with the final scheduled for Nov. 6, the International Tennis Federation said on Wednesday.
Formerly called the Fed Cup, the women’s team competition featuring 12 nations was originally scheduled to be held in Budapest in April last year before being postponed twice due to the pandemic.
France triumphed in the 2019 edition when a team featuring Kristina Mladenovic, Caroline Garcia and Pauline Parmentier defeated Australia.
This year, Belgium, the 2001 winners, will face 2017 runners-up Belarus on the opening day, while eleven-times winners Czech Republic will play on Nov. 1 and Nov. 4.
The competing nations will each play two group-stage ties to determine the winners of the four three-team groups, who will then progress to the semi-finals. Each tie will consist of two singles matches and a doubles match.
Germany, Spain, Slovakia, Australia, the U.S., Russia and Switzerland will be the other nations competing.
(Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)
Gymnasts Biles, Maroney demand justice in botched FBI sex abuse probe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) –Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney on Wednesday told U.S. lawmakers she feels betrayed by FBI agents, after they failed to investigate former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, despite her telling them he had sexually abused her.
FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate panel that the actions of the agents who botched the investigation are inexcusable, and he announced that one of the agents “no longer works for the bureau in any capacity.”
“I’m deeply and profoundly sorry,” Wray said.
Maroney is one of four athletes, along with Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, who testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee as it probes the FBI’s mishandling of the investigation.
Maroney recalled how in 2015 she spent three hours on the phone telling the FBI the details of her story that her own mother had not even heard, including accounts of sexual abuse she endured during the Olympic games in London by Nassar, whom she described as “more of a pedophile” than he was a doctor.
It was not until July of this year, however, that she said the Justice Department inspector general revealed in a scathing report what the FBI actually did with the information she provided: Failing to document it for a year and a half, and misrepresenting what she told them about her experiences.
“Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said,” Maroney said, with anger in her voice.
Wednesday’s hearing comes after the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz in July issued a scathing report https://oig.justice.gov/sites/default/files/reports/21-093.pdf which blasted the FBI for botching its investigation https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-justice-watchdog-release-report-into-fbi-probe-ex-usa-gymnastics-doctor-2021-07-14 in a series of errors that allowed the abuse to continue for months.
Several of the gymnasts said they were furious that the FBI failed to immediately interview them about the abuse after they had reported it. Once the FBI finally did contact them, they said the agents tried to downplay the severity of the abuse.
“I remember sitting with the FBI agent and him trying to convince me that it wasn’t that bad,” Raisman said.
“It’s taken me years of therapy to realize that my abuse was bad, that it does matter.”
Horowitz also appeared on Wednesday along with Wray.
Horowitz said that the now-fired agent who falsified Maroney’s statement “could have actually jeopardized the criminal investigation by providing false information that could have bolstered Nassar’s defense.”
The FBI declined to name the fired agent, but Senator Richard Blumenthal identified him as Michael Langeman.
Langeman served as a supervisory special agent in Indianapolis, where he led a task force that investigated child sexual exploitation, according to an interview he gave to a local podcast in 2018.
Reuters could not immediately reach Langeman for comment.
The FBI’s investigation into Nassar started in July 2015, after USA Gymnastics President and CEO Stephen Penny reported the allegations to the FBI’s Indianapolis field office.
That office, then led by Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott, did not formally open an investigation. The FBI only interviewed one witness months later, in September 2015, and failed to formally document that interview in an official report known as a “302” until February 2017 – well after the FBI had arrested Nassar on charges of possessing sexually explicit images of children in December 2016.
When the interview was finally documented in 2017 by an unnamed supervisory special agent, the report was filled with “materially false information and omitted material information,” Horowitz’s report determined.
Abbott, who retired from the FBI in 2018, also violated the FBI’s conflict of interest policy by discussing a possible job with the U.S. Olympic Committee while he was involved with the Nassar investigation.
As the FBI delayed its probe, Nassar went on to abuse more victims. At one point in Wednesday’s hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal asked all four athletes whether they knew of victims who were abused after the July 2015 disclosure to the FBI.
“Yes,” all four of them said.
Neither Abbott nor the other unnamed supervisory special agent who botched the Nassar probe were prosecuted for their actions.
Wray said the case was presented twice for possible prosecution and declined, but he deferred to federal prosecutors to explain their reasoning.
“We have been failed and we deserve answers,” Biles said on Wednesday.
Raisman, meanwhile, expressed frustrations that more has not been done to investigate USA Gymnastics or the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee for covering up Nassar’s abuse for years.
“Why did none of these organizations warn anyone? USAG and USOPC have a long history of enabling abuse by turning a blind eye. Both organizations knew of Nassar’s abuse, long before it became public,” she said.
In a statement, the USOPC said it remains “completely dedicated to the safety and well-being” of its athletes, and it has implemented reforms after hiring a law firm to conduct an independent investigation.
USA Gymnastics did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Nassar has been found guilty in three separate cases, with one of the prison sentences running up to 175 years. Prosecutors have estimated he sexually assaulted hundreds of women and girls.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker)
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