What people think of Major League Baseball’s C-suite cowardice

Last April, when Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game out of suburban Atlanta in what it thought was a strident example of the powerful corporate punishment states would face if Republican lawmakers passed laws MLB did not like, its corporate, academic and cultural peers applauded the move.

Commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision was seen by those who agreed with him as a heroic one that leading American institutions should make when they want to counter what they consider a societal wrong.

In fact, Manfred was just trying to avoid being canceled by the mob. If he had really believed in what he did, he would have made a statement the day after the Atlanta Braves clinched their division almost two weeks ago, declaring that none of the World Series games would be played in Atlanta because he is standing on his principles, outlined in the boycott.

But all along, Manfred acted from fear, not principle. That’s what we call C-suite cowardice — the way corporate America cries uncle, usually silently. Our cultural curators in corporations, academia, entertainment and the media will willingly make that happen over and over again until the day comes when people wise up and decide that the emperors have no clothes — that the curators’ opinions mean nothing.

For lifelong Atlanta Braves fan Joe Cobb, that tipping point already came. When I interviewed him in Georgia last spring about the boycott, Cobb said he was done with MLB, despite his undying love for the Atlanta Braves.

He has not looked back. Cobb said it isn’t as hard as he had expected to not consume something that had been such a part of his life. “If Major League Baseball truly wanted to make a statement,” he told me, “they would have said, ‘Not only will there be no All-Star Game in Georgia, there will be no playoff games or World Series played here as well.’ ”

The Athens native, who works as a training manager for a Fortune 500 company, remarked that there has not been a peep about Georgia’s election reform law as the Braves moved into the playoffs and have now won the World Series. To him, that shows just how hollow and purely performative MLB’s decision was last spring.

“I publicly said I would not watch the Braves, and I meant what I said,” he added. “I know I’m just one voice. To me, the problem is that so many people caved, and now what do we have? Well, we have the World Series. That’s great. And we’ve got full stadiums. That’s great. But you know what else we have? Major League Baseball wasn’t penalized. They got away with it. They were able to dictate and change people’s lives, and there’s no penalty for it.”

The Cobb County Travel and Tourism Bureau estimated a loss of over $100 million in total for businesses across the county without the nearly weeklong event the All-Star Game host city experiences. Critics in corporate media who shared MLB’s sentiments on moving the game to Denver predictably downplayed that number.              

Cobb said that before the controversy happened, he was pretty pumped about the prospects for this season. “I was really, really excited,” he said. “And when this whole controversy blew up, I was like, I don’t own a team. I don’t own a newspaper. I don’t have a public outlet. The only way that I can make my feelings known that I cannot reward a company when they do something so bad to other people is just not give them any of my money.”       

His stance has become a running joke with his family and friends, who ask him the day after every game whether he watched it. He has not watched, attended or streamed any game, not even the highlights.

“I’m just one person, but you know what? It is a principled stand, and I will stick by it.”

Cobb said that baseball is the American pastime. “It broke color barriers,” he said. “It has united people. But it has also had a history of overlooking their own personal scandals involving cheating, steroids and drugs. But God forbid, someone has to show an ID to vote in Georgia, and we’re just going to punish you and never even apologize for it.”

There are a lot more Cobbs in this country who have taken what they think are lonely stances against the big guys. They are mostly silent. You won’t find them at a protest, or as online warriors, but collectively, they are affecting our cultural curators’ bottom line, beginning with the loss of consumer trust that they’ll do the right thing — the most important relationship they have with their consumers, and one they cannot afford to lose.

 Salena Zito  is  a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner.