On Feb. 6, the North Carolina Sports Association sent a letter to state legislators urging an immediate repeal of the controversial House Bill 2 (HB2) or “Bathroom Bill” before the NCAA moves all championship events out of the state through 2022. The letter states that contacts from the NCAA informed the North Carolina Sports Association that all North Carolina bids would be pulled from the review process due to the NCAA’s stance on HB2.
HB2, signed into law last March, bans people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to the biological sex listed on their birth certificates. The bill also leaves all nondiscrimination legislation to the state government, therefore, preventing cities and counties from passing protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
This is certainly not the first time that politics and professional sports have intersected on a key social issue, but the pressure being imposed directly from the NCAA is particularly noteworthy.
The NCAA initially responded to the contentious law when it announced last September that it would be relocating all tournament games scheduled to take place in the state during the 2016-2017 academic year. The announcement followed the NBA’s decision to move its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans as a result of HB2.
HB2 has sparked divisive political discourse from both ends of the political spectrum, receiving backlash from LGBTQ groups and civil liberties organizations. Likewise, the NCAA’s reaction to the bill has engendered criticism from many organizations who favor such legislation.
The NC Values Coalition stated that the threats from the NCAA were “nothing short of extortion against taxpayers and innocent fans.” A spokeswoman for the North Carolina Republican Party stated she wished the NCAA was this concerned about women who were sexually assaulted at Baylor and concluded that “the NCAA should stop with their political peacocking” and focus more on safe campuses, on and off the field.
Setting politics aside, the economics of the continued enforcement of HB2 may spur action from the North Carolina legislature. The recent letter from Scott Dupree, the executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, states that North Carolina is on “the brink of losing all NCAA championship events for six consecutive years,” which in turn may result in the state losing upwards of a half-billion dollars.
While a NCAA spokeswoman said the organization has not made any final decisions yet, the letter states that contacts from the NCAA informed the North Carolina Sports Association that all state bids would be pulled from the review process due to the NCAA’s stance on HB2. The letter outlines 133 bids for NCAA championship events over a period of time between 2018 and 2022.
It is certainly the NCAA’s right to take a stance on this issue, but it will be interesting to see how far the organization will go on this political issue. The statement from the NCAA was interpreted by many as making it clear that a state wishing to host NCAA events has to protect their LGBTQ constituents, but North Carolina is not alone. Lawmakers in Alabama, South Carolina, Texas and more continue to propose legislation similar to North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill.
On the other hand, sports teams, leagues and organizations can certainly play a part in advancing causes and advocating for social change. Activism within sports has been a tool for societal change from Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers to sports organizations’ boycott of South Africa during apartheid.
Sports organizations’ effectiveness with prompting change at the state level in this country has been especially strong in recent years.
Sports played a major role in the effectiveness of a NAACP boycott in South Carolina when the state refused to remove a confederate flag flying on the grounds of the capital building in downtown Columbia.
Many organizations, including the NCAA, supported the boycott and did not schedule any championship events in South Carolina. During the same period, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced a three-year agreement to hold its annual baseball tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., from 2011 to 2013. However, the South Carolina NAACP readied objections and demonstrations, and the ACC canceled the deal, citing “miscommunication.”
The final decision to remove the flag was made after a gunman fatally shot nine people at a historic African-American Methodist church in Charleston, but the sports organization boycotts played a major role in applying economic pressure and ensuring that the issue remained in the public consciousness.
Another example of league activism occurred when Arizona refused to enact a Martin Luther King holiday in the 1990s. The NFL warned Arizona that the Super Bowl set to take place in Tempe would be moved out of the state if it did not acknowledge the holiday. When Arizona failed to comply, the NFL gave the game to Pasadena, Calif.
After losing the Super Bowl, along with the 1994 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Arizona passed legislation recognizing the holiday and later hosted the 1996 Super Bowl.
These examples show that when leagues apply pressure, change can be effectuated. With respect to HB2, the influence of the NCAA is already taking effect. After the recent North Carolina Sports Association warning, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper responded in a statement saying, “the NCAA news means there is no time to waste in repealing HB2.”
Key sports figures in North Carolina are also speaking up against the bill. Last summer, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski called the bill “embarrassing,” while N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried labeled it “frustrating.”
Former University of North Carolina coach Roy Williams sounded off about HB2 after the Tar Heels played against Notre Dame in the Greensboro Coliseum in February. Williams told reporters the “stupid rule” is ridiculous and is ruining the state’s reputation. In a state where college basketball is king, these coaches hold perhaps more sway than anyone does.
While many North Carolina legislators are resistant to a repeal of HB2, it will be interesting to see if they are willing to sacrifice upward of a half-billion dollars in losses due to organizations’ refusal to hold events in the state. Even if legislators disagree with the NCAA’s political stance, the bottom line in North Carolina may ultimately win the day.