When the Atlanta Braves announced their intention to move from their urban Atlanta home to the suburbs of neighboring Cobb County, the team cited a “lack of consistent mass transit options.” Bafflingly, though, the team’s new location has no mass transit options at all. The real reason for the move? Separating the team's largely white fanbase from Atlanta's black residents.
The Braves’ current home of Turner Field has been plagued with transportation problems for years. Parking is cramped, and Atlanta’s public rail service MARTA does not offer a direct stop at the station, only one about three-quarters of a mile away. On paper, it looks like a good idea to move the stadium to a more accessible location in 2017, even if it will cost $673 million to be split between Cobb County and the Braves.
Unfortunately, the Braves’ new choice of home could have just as many, if not more, problems. Located in suburban Cobb County at the junction between I-75 and I-285, the Braves’ new stadium will still bear an Atlanta address thanks to a technicality, but the difference is important for fans, especially where transportation is concerned. The area is already cluttered with traffic, and MARTA doesn’t extend north from Atlanta into Cobb County, leaving the Braves’ new home with no mass transit options whatsoever.
Still, the Braves insist that Cobb County is the perfect location for their new stadium, largely because of transportation issues that will still be a problem after a move to Cobb County.
"The access issues around Turner Field are very difficult," Derek Schiller, the Braves' executive vice president of sales and marketing, told ESPN. "It's the No. 1 issue cited by our fans as to why they either don't come to games or come to as many games. It's difficult to get here and very difficult to get out of here. The parking situation is cumbersome and challenging."
Of course, given Cobb’s lack of public transit options, Braves fans have questioned whether Cobb County will consider extending MARTA with a dedicated stop at the new stadium. But just last year, Cobb County residents voted down a proposal that would bring MARTA into their homes.
Cobb County’s new Republican Party chairman Joe Dendy makes it perfectly clear why the county refuses to allow convenient mass transportation options into the area (emphasis added):
“It is absolutely necessary the solution is all about moving cars in and around Cobb and surrounding counties from our north and east where most Braves fans travel from, and not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta,” Dendy said in a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
So why doesn’t Dendy want Atlanta residents attending games of the team bearing their home city’s name? Because the move isn’t about Atlanta Atlanta Braves fans in the slightest.
Though he didn’t come right out and say it, it’s clear what Dendy means: he -- and a majority of Cobb County residents -- simply don’t want Atlanta’s urban black population to making its way up to Cobb County.
Atlanta itself is a majority-black city, with 54 percent of the population identifying as black. The Summerhill neighborhood surrounding Turner Field has an even larger black population: 89 percent. For many white, suburban Braves fans, the neighborhood surrounding Turner Field has never been particularly appealing, despite the fact that Summerhill boasts a lower crime rate than most of urban Atlanta.
Enter Cobb County. The suburban county containing the cities of Kennesaw, Marietta, Smyrna and others, has a much larger white population at 56 percent. Vinings, an unincorporated town near the Braves’ proposed new home, has a white population of 89 percent. It’s no coincidence that the Atlanta Braves chose to set up shop here. Most of the Braves’ season ticket holders live north of Atlanta in the suburbs, and given the area’s racial and economic demographics, it’s a given that the majority of them are relatively affluent white suburbanites who aren’t likely to spend much time in downtown Atlanta if not for work. The Braves’ relocation to Cobb County is ultimately catered towards them.
At its heart, the Atlanta Braves’ move to Cobb County isn’t about escaping transportation problems. Cobb County could prove just as inaccessible, especially for fans relying on public transportation. At the same time, it’s clear that Cobb County won’t invest in public transit because its leaders don’t want Atlanta residents in their communities.
In the end, as Joe Dendy inadvertently revealed, the move is about placating white suburban Braves fans who feel uncomfortable in a black neighborhood. For Atlanta, a city with an infamous history of racial segregation, it’s a shame that the Braves’ new stadium will come at the likely cost of the team’s black fans and supporters.