RALEIGH, N.C. — It appears several sports leagues have decided one of their functions should be to prod state lawmakers to adopt social policies some league leaders prefer. In North Carolina, where we live and work, the NBA, NCAA, and Atlantic Coast Conference have all decided to withdraw major events from the state to express their disapproval of House Bill 2.
The state legislature passed HB2 in March 2016 as a response to an ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council requiring public entities and private businesses to make special provisions for transgender citizens. In essence, these sports organizations have decided their events may occur only in “approved” locations and that states not agreeing with those policies will be starved of the economic benefits of hosting league events.
“Weaponizing” sports for a political or ideological agenda is a dangerous trend. It raises lots of questions about the proper role of sports organizations. Who decides which issues deserve economic sanctioning? Is this limited to perceived discrimination or civil liberty issues, or could economic bullying occur over environmental policies, gun laws, education funding, voter rights, or other state-based issues? Who decides?
In the case of the NCAA, does the president unilaterally make the call? Should those decisions be made by the board, the school presidents, the athletic directors, or a special committee of bureaucrats?
There’s No Limiting Principle to This Protest
The 2017 NBA All-Star Game, played February 19, was moved from Charlotte to New Orleans. By the way, Louisiana has the strictest abortion laws in the country — which many think discriminate against women. That state also has the death penalty, which critics say is applied disproportionately against black and Hispanic offenders, along with a voter ID law, which many claim disenfranchises the poor and minorities.
An upcoming men’s NCAA basketball regional event was moved from Greensboro to South Carolina. In 2016, the ACC moved its football championship game from Charlotte to Florida. To make matters worse for the city of Charlotte, the NBA demanded that Charlotte refurbish its coliseum to the tune of $43 million to secure the All-Star game, only to have the NBA renege and move the event.
Whatever the economic impact of these moves, damage is being done, even if only to our state’s reputation and psyche. We have to call this what it is: economic bullying.
These sports organizations have punished the 10 million residents of North Carolina by withdrawing large, nationally televised events. They have done so because a few leaders of sports organizations that represent thousands of members from states all over the country don’t agree with North Carolina’s laws. Because these laws, passed by a duly elected body of representative lawmakers, are not consistent with the social views, definitions, perceptions, or policies of these sports organizations’ leaders, they have decided to wreak economic punishment.
If You Start Judging Laws, No States Will Be Left
In September 2016, National Review published an article by David French, “The Left is Weaponizing Sports.” In the article, French noted few cultural experiences bring us all together as Americans, and sport has been one. But sadly, it appears even our shared love of sport is being violated by political and ideological activity.
Addressing the NBA and NCAA decisions in North Carolina, French wrote, “social-justice warriors, however, can’t leave well enough alone. Is the trend now that major sporting events can only occur in progressive-approved locations?” Apparently, the answer is yes. If you look at what the NFL and NBA have already said over the past couple of weeks to the political leaders of the state of Texas, we are just scratching the surface.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the NBA warned Texas leaders concerning the selection of future event sites around the same time the NFL said state laws that conflict with the league’s commitment to leftist politics could be a deciding factor in where major events like the Super Bowl are held.
The NCAA has never interceded on nonathletic issues other than the overreach into the investigation of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky at Penn State. In that case, the NCAA was out front with a postseason ban, loss of scholarships, and a $60 millon fine, as well as vacating football wins over a 13-year period. After being sued by the state of Pennsylvania, the NCAA subsequently rescinded all penalties.
So one has to wonder why it has stepped into a state political battle? Shouldn’t the NCAA’s focus be on athletic competition, scholarships, and violations of its own rules? With Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, Arkansas, New Jersey, and Oklahoma all considering legislation similar to North Carolina’s law, will the NCAA impose the same penalties on those states?
The consequence of sports leagues acting as social-justice warriors may actually end up with few places deemed worthy of hosting events. Lots of progressive issues could raise the red flag for sport organizations in the name of social justice. Thirty-two states have the death penalty, including California. Nineteen states fail NARAL’s standards for abortion providers, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Louisiana. Fourteen states have passed voter ID laws, including Wisconsin, Indiana, Virginia, Texas, Ohio, and Kansas. Twenty-three states have a minimum wage at or below the federal level. Many on the Left blame a lack of strict gun regulation in this country for the inner city violence and spiraling homicide rate.
Should the social-justice warriors of the NBA, NCAA, ACC, and NFL step in? If so, it looks as if Phoenix and Salt Lake City might be our last two hopes to hold some kind of sporting events. They’re both very nice cities with lovely people, but we could be seeing the diversity of “allowable” locales diminish almost as quickly as the diversity of opinion has receded on college campuses.
Chipping Off Your Fans Is Not a Winning Strategy
All of these trends portend more problems for the sports organizations in the long run. Weaponizing sports for a political or ideological agenda is fundamentally flawed because it assumes political criteria should be considered in sports league decisions.
Sports content presents a huge economic weapon because the value of sports has been created from the appetites, interests, and contributions of all Americans. In a time of mass-market disintegration and micro-targeting of fractional audience segments, sports content has continued to deliver a massive audience. This audience and appetite has created enormous financial resources for sports organizations.
When that money and economic power get weaponized to punish citizens in states based on political or ideological ideas with which those citizens may or may not agree, it makes us wonder if the sports cartels may be on their way to killing the goose that laid the golden egg.