On August 26, the Milwaukee Bucks staged a wildcat strike to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha Police. The team’s actions carried through the entire NBA and spread through the WNBA, the NHL, MLS, and even MLB. For the NBA, the strike did more than raise awareness to the rampant police brutality which disproportionately affects Black communities.
NBA players managed to turn every available arena in the league into a polling place for the upcoming presidential election. Some arenas can’t be used because the arena itself is publicly owned and local officials have denied the motion as is the case in Miami. Still, this is a tangible benefit that wouldn’t have been earned if the Bucks and the rest of the NBA hadn’t refused to play.
When MLB joined in, it felt like a watershed moment for a league whose efforts at speaking up for social justice are largely performative. Last season, the league celebrated Jackie Robinson Day then turned around and suspended Tim Anderson for his reaction to getting plunked by Brad Keller. In 2016, the Mariners reprimanded a lesbian couple for kissing a week before it hosted a LGBT Pride Night.
MLB players, however, didn’t achieve anything close to what the NBA players did. The league wasn’t united in efforts. The Cubs, for instance, played on despite Jason Heyward walking out. Heyward reportedly encouraged the team to play without him, but so did Mookie Betts when he decided he would sit out. Clayton Kershaw’s comments that the Dodgers weren’t going to play without him stood in stark contrast to what the Cubs did.
Before the strikes, it was already decided that Dodger Stadium will serve as a polling place in the presidential election. Nationals Park in Washington D.C. will also serve as a polling place. So far, those are the only two MLB parks that will serve. It might be too far removed for the MLBPA or the Player’s Alliance to demand that their team’s homes are used for a public good in November, but it’s still something the league and the players should be trying to materialize.
In the midst of a pandemic, sports arenas are excellent locations for polling places. They’re large, open, and with few exceptions, easy to get to. Of course, adoption of universal vote-by-mail would solve many of the problems with voting in person during a pandemic or in any other year. Universal vote-by-mail would mean more people could easily vote, so America, a farce of a democracy, will never adopt it. So, the next best thing is to convert stadiums into polling places.
That these locations can serve a large number of people is going to be crucial. Whether out of concerns for safety or opportunistic voter suppression, the number of polling places around the country will be dramatically reduced. In the primaries, Georgia closed more than 80 polling places. In one instance, 16,000 voters were assigned to one location. In Atlanta, voters had to wait more than three hours to cast their vote.
Sporting arenas are usually presented to cities as a public good. Ownership groups insist that building an arena will revitalize the area or create jobs despite all evidence to the contrary. After taking $500 million of public money, Globe Life Field would create more public good as a polling place than it will over the next three decades. The same is true of any stadium which took public funding. These stadiums are supposed to benefit the communities in which they are built. Turning into polling places is a great way to start doing that.
If you don’t own a baseball stadium but want to help during the election, consider volunteering at a local polling place.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.