Georgia is still caught up in a political riptide, less than a week after Major League Baseball pulled its summer All-Star game out of suburban Atlanta in a rebuke to the state’s new election rules that restrict access to voting.
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, embroiled himself in the controversy this week as he continued to lash out at executives with Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta and other corporations for criticizing the Republican-led efforts to impose restrictions on voting access in Georgia and other states. He accused them of “bullying” politicians.
“My warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” said Mr. McConnell, after an appearance promoting vaccine distribution in Louisville, Ky., on Tuesday.
When asked to define the activities that executives should avoid, Mr. McConnell — who has long argued that corporate campaign donations are a protected, nearly sacred, form of political communication — said he was “not talking about political contributions.”
M.L.B.’s decision to move the All-Star Game to Denver was a watershed moment for a sport long known for its traditionalism and slow-moving nature. Until 1947, baseball barred Black players from its teams. And just last year, M.L.B. waited nine days before addressing George Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests, making it the last of the four major professional sports leagues in North America to do so.
The sport’s fan base is older and less diverse than the N.F.L. and the N.B.A. A majority of major league players are white, and many lean conservative in their personal politics. And not unlike their counterparts in professional basketball or football, M.L.B. club owners are largely Republican donors.
“There needs to be a greater reflection by all companies, baseball included,” said Reggie Jackson, 74, the Hall of Fame outfielder. “Baseball’s further behind the other sports.”
But there is at least one major sporting event held in Georgia that has escaped getting tangled in controversy so far.
Even among the fiercest critics of the state’s new election law, there are limited calls to upend the Masters Tournament, which is underway this week in Augusta, Ga.
Golf, like baseball, leans Republican. But the certainty that the state’s most cherished sporting event would go on as planned is a reflection of Augusta National Golf Club’s honed willingness to defy pressure and, crucially, the reality that the mighty, mystique-filled brand of the Masters hinges on that one course. Unlike M.L.B.’s All-Star Game, which is staged in a different city each year, Augusta National has always been the home of the Masters.
What scrutiny Augusta National is facing ahead of tournament play, which begins on Thursday, is focused not least on its membership, which includes executives whose current and former companies are under pressure to condemn the Georgia law.
President Biden on Tuesday said it was “up to the Masters” whether the tournament should be moved out of Georgia, adding that it was “reassuring to see that for-profit operations and businesses are speaking up.”
Lawmakers in more than 40 states are pursuing new voting laws that Democrats predict will make it more difficult for people of color to vote. Republicans argue that limiting early voting and absentee balloting and encouraging poll watchers are necessary steps to ensure election integrity.
But with Georgia’s new law prompting corporate America to began flexing its muscle by publicly criticizing the changes, Republican leaders are warning business executives to steer clear of this fight.
“It’s not what you’re designed for,” Mr. McConnell urged the business community. “And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of America’s greatest political debates.”
James Wagner, Alan Blinder and Bill Pennington contributed reporting.