On Tuesday afternoon, the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team returned to Chapel Hill, “national champions” gear in tow, to celebrate their NCAA tournament championship with their fans and classmates.
The Tar Heels’ victory over Gonzaga wasn’t the only reason that basketball fans in North Carolina had to celebrate: Earlier in the day, the NCAA announced that due to the state’s repeal of the anti-LGBT “bathroom bill” known as HB2, NCAA championship events would be allowed to return to North Carolina after a six-month hiatus.
But not everyone felt like joining in the parade.
“Today, the NCAA told the LGBTQ community — including their own students — that they aren’t a priority,” Hudson Taylor, executive director of Athlete Ally, said in a statement provided to ThinkProgress.
“The hypocritical decision to move contests back to the state of North Carolina will have detrimental consequences on LGBT players, fans, coaches and officials that have entrusted the NCAA to establish and maintain an inclusive environment at championships and events. It is a crass decision and they have chosen money over principle,” Taylor added.
On the surface, the end of HB2 and the return of the NCAA may seem like a triumphant end to a civil rights battle. But in reality, both North Carolina and the NCAA simple doubled down on discrimination against the LGBT community — and the transgender community in particular — and showed that their financial bottom line was much more important than ensuring the safety and dignity of all those within their jurisdiction.
It also proved that although the intermingling of sports and politics is inevitable, relying on sporting organizations to serve as moral arbitrators is always going to be a dangerous game.
After all, the NCAA is the same organization that makes a billion dollars off of a basketball tournament played by athletes who can’t earn a dime; it’s the same organization that says it values education, all while offering free advertising for the predatory University of Phoenix and holding tournaments that prevent the so-called student athletes from even attending class; it’s the same organization that runs ads about the importance of female athletes, all while failing to even promote those female athletes on its own website.
“Today, the NCAA told the LGBTQ community — including their own students — — that they aren’t a priority.”
Is it any wonder they’d see transgender rights and LGBT protections as something they’re willing to “compromise” on?
The NCAA announced last September that due to the discriminatory nature of HB2 and the association’s “commitment to fairness and inclusion” it was removing all championship games from the state for the 2016–17 season.
“Fairness is about more than the opportunity to participate in college sports, or even compete for championships,” Mark Emmert, the NCAA president, said at the time. “We believe in providing a safe and respectful environment at our events and are committed to providing the best experience possible for college athletes, fans and everyone taking part in our championships.”
The NCAA put further pressure on the state to repeal HB2 this spring, when it announced that unless the state repealed the bill last week, it would not be considered for any championship games for the next six years. But this ended up backfiring.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), who ran a campaign based on repealing HB2, clearly felt pressure — and ended up giving into what was billed as a “compromise,” but actually represented a repeal-and-replace-with-something-almost-identical scheme that left many members of the LGBT community infuriated.
The new bill, House Bill 142, prevents any cities or public institutions from enacting any legislation pertaining to bathroom usage, and it also prevents all cities in North Carolina from enacting any nondiscrimination ordinances to offer additional protections for the LGBT community. Unsurprisingly, HB2’s detractors are not thrilled by this.
“From the perspective of the LGBT community, I don’t believe we have gotten rid of HB2,” Rep. Cecil Brockman (D), one of two openly LGBT legislators in North Carolina, told ThinkProgress last week. “We’re just putting lipstick on a pig. We’re trying to dress it up and act like we’re doing something different.”
“What’s more discriminatory than a law that specifically targets LGBT rights?”
Notably, this new bill did not address the NCAA’s main concerns about HB2, including the fact that other cities are banning travel to North Carolina for public employees due to the law (this is still true), and the ban on nondiscrimination ordinances. The main difference between HB2 and HB142 is the lack of the birth-certificate clause for bathroom use.
The NCAA pointed out in its announcement on Tuesday that the transgender community will have absolutely no protection in the state in “bathroom facilities.” But they were willing to overlook that in order to bring championships back to the college basketball-obsessed state.
Now, advocates are now extremely concerned about the problematic precedent this sets for other states.
“The NCAA right now prohibits games at locations with symbols of discrimination, such as the confederate flag or Native American insignia. What’s more discriminatory than a law that specifically targets LGBT rights? We’re not understanding the logic,” Ashland Johnson, the director of public education and research for the Human Rights Council, told ThinkProgress.
“We’re already seeing now that people who have supported anti-LGBT legislation are saying that they see this as a green light, that they feel vindicated. And now they have a blueprint.”
In fact, on Tuesday, Texas Lt. Dov. Dan Patrick (R) came out and said that the NCAA’s decision on HB142 provided him with confidence that the equally discriminatory Texas Privacy Act that has been floating around the Texas assembly is “not in conflict with the anti-discrimination goals of the NCAA.”
At the same time, Republican legislators in North Carolina started working on a new bill that would further discriminate against transgender men and women who want to use the bathroom pertaining to their gender identity.
Now, all eyes are on the NBA to see if the league, which has historically been pretty progressive, follows the NCAA’s lead. The NBA removed the All-Star game from Charlotte last year due to HB2, but will be making a decision on upcoming All-Star games this month. Will they agree with the NCAA that transgender rights are not really worth fighting for?
No matter what NBA commissioner Adam Silver decides, it should give us all pause that we’re looking to sports organizations to save us from the immorality of our own government, when really it should be the other way around.
These leagues — particularly the NCAA — are ultimately more beholden to the bottom line than they are to civil rights. And because of how devoted so many people are to sports, they get away with it.
That’s reality, and it’s bleak enough to kill any celebratory mood.