The Atlanta Braves won the World Series. But they face a tougher opponent off the field
Updated 1258 GMT (2058 HKT) November 3, 2021
(CNN)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 baddest Black baseball superheroes.
Those Braves teams featured a colorful lineup of Black superstars: Fred "Crime Dog" McGriff, speedy Otis Nixon, two-way star Deion "Prime Time" Sanders and the dimpled chin of David Justice, who was married to actress Halle Berry.
The Braves then were part of the heartbeat of Black Atlanta. Hip-hop artists wore their caps, and legions of Black fans, ushers and street vendors mingled with White fans at the team's ballpark in a historic Black neighborhood near downtown.
But when the Rev. Michael Clayton Harris, co-host of the Red & Rev. Sports Show, attended a recent Braves game at Truist Park, he sat in a crowd of overwhelmingly 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 it with the fan base," says Harris, who is a pastor at Acts of Faith Baptist Church in Decatur, a suburb of Atlanta. "It felt weird for the simple fact that I remember when the stands had a lot more Black people, and a lot more were enticed to games because they had more representation."
Harris' experience demonstrates that one of the most fascinating storylines of the 2021 World Series is happening off the field. The Braves aren't just playing the Houston Astros -- they're also battling a perception that the franchise has abandoned the city's Black community.
I've lived in Atlanta for 30 years, and I've long heard this talk in 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 suburban White fans felt uncomfortable coming to games downtown, where they were surrounded by Black people.
Atlanta, once known as the "city too busy to hate," in recent years has been engulfed by racial turmoil: police shootings of Black men, racial protests and clashes over voting rights. These tensions spilled over into the sports world this year when Major League Baseball pulled the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest new state laws that make it more difficult to vote.
A World Series title usually brings a city together. But I wonder: Will this Braves' championship begin to heal the rift with the city's Black community?
Atlanta's racial tensions go beyond sports
This question may be surprising because of the Braves' history.
The franchise's most famous and beloved player, the late Hank Aaron, was a hero in the Black community. He received racist taunts and death threats when he broke Babe Ruth's home run record in 1974, but the Braves organization embraced Aaron as a symbol of racial reconciliation in his retirement.