In November 2013, the Braves announced that they would be moving out of Turner Field, where they have played for just eighteen seasons, into a new stadium in suburban Cobb County, a decision reached after the city refused to spend millions in stadium upgrades or development in the neighborhood surrounding the field. Many fans expressed bewilderment that a perfectly serviceable stadium would be ditched after such a short time. However, as this clip from MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes illustrates, the fight over the stadium is tied not only to the financial negotiations between the city and the team but also Atlanta’s complex racial politics as well as definitions of what counts as “Atlanta.” As one of Hayes’ guests, Goldie Taylor, reminds us, Atlanta should be understood not as a single political body—a location defined by clear boundaries or city limits—but as “a ten-county metro region” cobbled together unevenly.
For the most part, the Hayes segment does an effective job of conveying both the region’s politics and their relationship to larger level concerns about what Hayes calls the “stadium hustle,” the process by which highly-profitable sports franchises are able to manipulate public sentiment in order to have new stadiums or arenas subsidized, often through taxes levied against local citizens. It’s an effective reflection on the relationships between sports, geography, and power. However, the segment also illustrates many of the limits of political talk, including the attempts to impose simple interpretations onto more complex phenomena. While the region of Atlanta has long resisted a comprehensive public transit system for reasons driven by both racism and a resistance to taxation, David Zirin, sports critic for The Nation, pushes a deep misreading of the move to the suburbs, flatly announcing, “it doesn’t take Bull Connor to figure out the messaging here,” while Taylor reads the move in terms of Major League Baseball’s failure to court African-American youth while forgetting that the Braves have three starting outfielders of African-American descent (Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, and Justin Upton, for those keeping score). These misconceptions are challenged, to some extent, by Braves beat reporter David O’Brien; however, they warrant further interrogation, not only because they prevent us from fully understanding a city and region’s complex history but also because they may diminish our ability to act politically within such a diverse climate.