DeSantis Harpoons the Tampa Bay Rays


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis


Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida Gov.

Ron DeSantis

has picked another fight with progressive corporate America, this time the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. When he signed the state budget last week, Mr. DeSantis zeroed out $35 million to help build a new site for the Rays’ spring training. “I don’t support giving taxpayer dollars to professional sports stadiums, period,” he said Friday.

This is a good policy that too few states emulate, and Florida taxpayers can be grateful that their Governor has a line-item veto and is willing to use it. He vetoed $3 billion in earmarks and pet legislative projects. But Mr. DeSantis also muddied his message by citing another reason to defund the Rays. “It’s also inappropriate to subsidize political activism of a private corporation,” he said.

After recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, the Rays pledged to donate $50,000 to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that wants to ban “assault weapons” and prohibit open carry. The team’s


account, “in lieu of game coverage,” offered “facts about the impacts of gun violence.”

Why sports teams want to risk alienating half of their fans by taking sides in political debates is a mystery. People turn on ESPN as a break from politics, and the shrinking of apolitical spaces makes social comity harder.

As a matter of political realism, corporations that directly punch state leaders can hardly be surprised if they get socked in return. After Florida passed its mislabeled “Don’t Say Gay” law,


CEO called it a “challenge to basic human rights.” The Legislature reacted by passing a bill to phase out Disney World’s special tax district.

Richard Edelman,

CEO of the giant public relations firm, recently warned executives at Davos that “we better be careful here because there’s starting to be a pushback against wokeness.” He’s right, and Mr. Edelman also offered the good advice that CEOs can take political stands in their personal capacity and donations to politicians, but that their public positions are best focused on policy issues that affect business.

But Mr. DeSantis is also in danger of abusing his power if he uses it to punish business for political speech he doesn’t like. Not wanting to subsidize professional sports is a compelling reason to veto the spending provision. Framing the veto as an act of censure is no better than the woke left demanding that corporate executives conform to their agenda. Politicians who behave like bullies invariably get a comeuppance when they overreach.

If Rays fans are put off by political lecturing from a ball club, they know how to quit buying tickets. And if Florida gets a reputation for petty retaliation against business, companies know how to go elsewhere.

Review & Outlook: What started as a row over parental rights legislation has resulted in the Walt Disney Company losing special privileges in Florida—and serves as a wake-up call for other CEOs. Images: Reuters/AP/Miami Herald Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the June 7, 2022, print edition.



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