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Perspective: Baseball Has First Amendment Rights, Too

Major League Baseball (MLB) has officially moved this year’s All-Star festivities from Georgia to Colorado.

And some critics have been asking “What right does MLB have” to intervene in a political dispute over voting rights?

Well, in short, it has every right. Whether you agree with the move is another matter.

Organizations have their own free speech rights, and for publicly held companies, they also are speaking for their stockholders and staffers.

MLB’s action is the latest in a long line of involvement by sports figures and teams in the social business of the nation.

Yes, sports is about … well, sports. And for most of us, most of the time, it’s about fun, recreation, fandom or some combination of all of those things.

But in many ways, sports has been a leader in pointing, pushing or prodding the rest of us toward discussion and decisions about equality and inclusiveness.

Athletes and sports organizations have long spoken to us about social issues. There’s a First Amendment link across the decades from Joe Louis and Jack Robinson in the 1930s and ’40s to Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James today.

In 2016, the NCAA pulled seven championship tournaments from North Carolina, objecting to newly enacted discriminatory laws regarding transgender people; the next year, the law was repealed. In the 2020 season, the National Football League stenciled phrases like, “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” in end zones, recognizing calls for social justice and racial equality.

Speaking out on social issues or making political statements is not without risk. The NFL drew the ire of former President Donald Trump for finally accepting that many of its athletes wanted to kneel during the national anthem in solidarity with protests for racial equality and in protest of police shootings. MLB is facing calls for a fan boycott because of its All-Star decision.

The First Amendment protects us from government silencing us, but not from the ramifications of what we say. But having that say … and using it … is how democracy plays out, on and off the field.

Gene Policinski is a senior fellow for the First Amendment at the Freedom Forum. He can be reached at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter at @genefac.

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