On the night of one of their most important game in 20-plus years, the Atlanta Braves have chosen to wade knee-deep into the culture war of the moment and bring COVID-19 politics into the ballpark.
Stick to sports? Not when you’re inviting country artist Travis Tritt to sing the national anthem before Game 6 of the NLCS on Saturday at Truist Park, as a tweet from Tritt himself confirmed.
Normally, the choice of national anthem singer or who throws the first pitch is a trivial honor that suggests little about what any sports organization values. And Tritt, who grew up in the nearby suburb of Marietta, is a lifelong Braves fan who has sung the national anthem there many times going back to the 1990s.
But for the Braves to choose Tritt as the performer for this particular game, after this particular week, can only be interpreted as a middle finger to the segment of its fan base that stands on the side of science and an endorsement of the kind of misinformation that keeps the COVID-19 pandemic going strong.
Though Tritt was a big country star with several hits and Grammy Awards in the 1990s, part of his act these days – and perhaps most of his relevance – revolves around extreme right-wing politics on Twitter.
That spilled into national news over the past week when he canceled shows in Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois and Kentucky at venues that require any COVID-19 safety measures including masks or proof of vaccination. He has since been a cause celebre among right-wing commentators, railing against those policies on shows like Tucker Carlson Tonight which has been one of the biggest drivers of anti-vaccine propaganda in all of American media.
“Any show I have booked that discriminates against concert-goers by requiring proof of vaccination, a COVID test, or a mask is being canceled immediately,” Tritt said in a statement on his website.
Of course, this type of gaslighting ignorance has nothing to do with discrimination. Vaccine and mask mandates at large public gatherings like concerts are obvious, common sense COVID-19 mitigation measures that have allowed the majority of adults to return to some type of normal life during a pandemic that has killed over 731,000 of our fellow citizens.
If Tritt wants his brand to be the anti-vaccine country star playing in front of anti-vaccine crowds, he can go right ahead. But that does not mean the Braves should endorse it by inviting him to perform at a NLCS game — unless it’s exactly what their organization believes as well.
Of course, if Tritt were really standing on principle here instead of politics as performance, he would’ve turned down the invitation from the Braves to begin with. After all, MLB has vaccine requirements for all non-playing personnel on the field during the playoffs – including managers and coaches.
This is all, of course, very unnecessary by the Braves — and they know that. There are plenty of Atlanta-based musical acts and artists that would have been able to handle anthem duties without drawing undue attention to a pathetic cause.
But what better time to kick this dust into the faces of many of their fans than right before Game 6 when they can clinch their first World Series berth since 1999?
No wonder Atlanta’s fan base lives in fear of the other shoe dropping at all times, even when their team just needs to win 1-of-2 games at home to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But for the Braves, apparently maintaining the good karma that got them here isn’t as important as putting anti-vaccine rhetoric front and center on their big night.
There’s no other way to interpret having Tritt sing the national anthem after the run of recent media appearances he’s had. At this point, the Braves can’t claim ignorance or wash their hands of the political implications. They are making it very clear where they stand.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Travis Tritt national anthem: Braves make anti-vaccine statement with singer