Atlanta has long been called a black mecca, but in the 1990s it was also known for something else: The home of some of the country’s worst black baseball superheroes.
These Braves teams had a colorful array of black superstars: Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff, fast Otis Nixon, two-way star Deion “Prime Time” Sanders and the recessed chin of David Justice, who was married to actress Halle Berry.
The Braves were then part of the heartbeat of Black Atlanta. Hip-hop artists wore their caps, and legions of black fans, officers, and street vendors mingled with white fans on the team’s ball field in a historic black neighborhood near downtown.
But when Pastor Michael Clayton Harris, co-host of Red & Rev. Sports Show, taking part in a recent Braves fight at Truist Park, he sat in a crowd of overwhelming white fans in a predominantly white suburb, while a soundtrack of mostly rock and country music played over the sound system.
“When you go to the game, it has a Trump feel to the fan base,” says Harris, a pastor at the Acts of Faith Baptist Church in Decatur, a suburb of Atlanta. “It felt strange for the simple fact that I remember when the stands had many more black people and many more were lured to games because they had more representation.”
Harris’ experience shows that one of the most fascinating stories of the 2021 World Series takes place off the field. The Braves not only play the Houston Astros – they also struggle with a perception that the franchise has left the city’s black community.
I have lived in Atlanta for 30 years and I have long heard this talk at barbershops and sports bars. Some Black fans say the team has few, if any, African-American players they can relate to. Others believe the team left Atlanta because its white suburban fans felt uncomfortable coming to games in the center, where they were surrounded by black people.
Atlanta, once known as “the city too busy to hate”, has in recent years been engulfed in racial unrest: police shootings of black men, racial protests and clashes over the right to vote. These tensions spilled over into the sports world this year as Major League Baseball pulled the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest new state laws that make it harder to vote.
A World Series appearance usually brings a city together. But I wonder: Can a Braves World Series victory begin to completely break with the city’s black community?
Read more from Blake here.