Hours after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a law that would allow the state’s businesses to refuse LGBT customers based on their sexuality under the guise of “religious freedom,” the NCAA took a strong stance against the law in a statement from president Mark Emmert.
With the men’s college basketball Final Four coming to Indianapolis next weekend, Emmert said he was “especially concerned” about the impact the law might have.
“The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in the statement. “We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees. We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill.”
The NCAA, based in Indianapolis, had already faced calls from organizations like Freedom To Marry to condemn the law. Jason Collins, the NBA’s first openly gay player, had already tweeted at Pence earlier this week about the law. An openly gay college rowing coach wrote at OutSports that it should immediately move the men’s Final Four somewhere else.
While moving next week’s Final Four might not be impossible, it’s certainly unfeasible; however, the women’s Final Four is scheduled to take place in Indianapolis next year and the men’s version is headed back in 2021. Could the law threaten those events? The NCAA already doesn’t hold postseason events in South Carolina and Mississippi because they still fly the Confederate flag. Knowing that, the NCAA following in the steps of multiple businesses and conventions that have already threatened to ditch Indiana would send a similarly strong message that discriminatory laws aren’t good for its business, its employees, and its customers.
Perhaps with that in mind, Emmert indicated that the NCAA would keep an eye on the law’s effects in the near future.
“Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce,” Emmert said.
The NCAA was not the only major college sports-oriented organization to face an immediate challenge. The Big Ten conference plays its football championship in Indianapolis; by Thursday afternoon, a University of Wisconsin fan had started a change.org petition calling on the league to move its title game elsewhere.
“The State of Indiana, as a member of the Big Ten Conference, needs to be told that it must live up to the ideals of the conference and respect all persons regardless of sex, age, religion, gender identity, or sexual preference,” the petition reads.
Naturally, the NFL would be expected to follow the condemnations. The league has spoken out against such a law before, when similar legislation hit Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk last year. The NFL made it clear it was opposed, and there were rumblings that the league could move the 2015 Super Bowl out of Glendale if Brewer signed the law. It had done so to Arizona before: in 1990, when the state’s voters shot down a referendum to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the NFL moved the Super Bowl to Los Angeles.
The NFL does not have another Super Bowl scheduled in Indianapolis for the near future, but it does hold its annual Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Field each year, giving it a place in the debate not much different from the NCAA’s.
Former NFL punter Chris Kluwe, an outspoken LGBT equality advocate, called on the league to make its position clear again:
The @NFL made its position on diversity clear when it threatened to take away the Super Bowl from AZ. It needs to do the same in Indiana.
— Cassandra (@ChrisWarcraft) March 26, 2015
Reached by email Thursday, though, an NFL spokesperson declined to comment.
The NCAA and NFL have both made LGBT equality a part of both their mission and business model. The NFL front office, notably, has added sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy, issued welcoming statements to Michael Sam when he came out as gay before the draft last spring, and spoken out against players who’ve made anti-gay comments. The NCAA was similarly welcoming when UMass basketball player Derrick Gordon came out last year.
Moving major events like the Final Four or Combine, though, would be a strong move from both organizations, proof that they aren’t just for equality in their words but are here for an increasing number of LGBT fans, players, and coaches in their actions too. The NCAA should be commended for taking a strong early stance against the law, but given that this is also its home turf, the statement alone won’t be enough in the future. For the NFL, which has proven before that it has the power to affect change on a topic commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials say is a priority for them, simply speaking up would be a welcome start. But ultimately, this requires action from both organizations and others like them.
The NFL and NCAA use their political, persuasive, and oft-inflated economic powers to put their events in the cities of their choosing as a matter of routine. Perhaps it’s time they use those same powers now in a way that will do actual good for an untold number of their employees, players, coaches, and fans.