Georgia legislators step in it, could lose Super Bowl, other events

When Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal considers whether to block the contentious "religious liberty" bill, which effectively legalizes discrimination, he might want to consider something: Passage of House Bill 757 also likely means the city of Atlanta will not be given a Super Bowl any time soon, if ever.

That was made clear Friday when the NFL responded to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution query on whether the league had any position on the potential Georgia law.

League spokesman Brian McCarthy responded with this statement: "NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.”

Some statements require you to read between the lines.

Not that one.

The sports and political worlds often collide, as much as sports fans sometimes would prefer they don't. Sports often has been at the forefront of social change, and I see nothing wrong with that or any athlete, team or league using their platform to push for what they believe is right.

The NFL wasn't the only league to come out with a strong statement. Falcons owner Arthur Blank, the Braves and the Hawks also responded to AJC's request for comment. (It's worth noting the Falcons recently suffered national embarrassment when it was learned one of their assistant coaches asked a draft prospect, "Do you like men?"

• From Blank, who stands to lose a lot if he can't hold major events like the Super Bowl in his new stadium in 2017: “One of my bedrock values is ‘Include Everyone’ and it’s a principle we embrace and strive to live each and every day with my family and our associates, a vast majority of which live and work in Georgia. I strongly believe a diverse, inclusive and welcoming Georgia is critical to our citizens and the millions of visitors coming to enjoy all that our great state has to offer. House Bill 757 undermines these principles and would have long-lasting negative impact on our state and the people of Georgia.”

From the Braves organization: "The Atlanta Braves organization believes that House Bill 757  is detrimental to our community and bad for Georgia.  Our organization believes in an environment that is inclusive of all people. In addition to allowing discrimination against citizens of this state, the bill will have a profoundly negative impact on our organization. As a Georgia business and employer, we proudly support Georgia Prospers in its goal to ensure that the state’s workplaces and communities are diverse and welcoming for all people, no matter one’s race, sex, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  We are proud to represent Georgia and are opposed to any law that endorses discrimination against anyone."

• From the Hawks' organization: "For generations, Atlanta has stood at the forefront of civil rights and its diversity is what has made this city a cultural leader in the Southeast. The Hawks strongly believe in the values of inclusion, diversity and equal rights, core principles by which we operate our business and are essential elements in making Atlanta a leading global city."

The NCAA, which controls the site of the Final Four, also released a statement Friday night, saying in part it will "monitor current events, which include issues surrounding diversity, in all cities bidding on NCAA championships and events, as well as cities that have already been named as future host sites. Our commitment to the fair treatment of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, has not changed and is at the core of our NCAA values.  It is our expectation that all people will be welcomed and treated with respect in cities that host our NCAA championships and events."

A loss of major sports events or a potential major hit to the economy shouldn't be the main reason this legislation is shot down. But it's a cold reality that some in the Georgia house may not have fully realized until now.

There is precedent for the league stripping a Super Bowl from a city for decisions in the political world. The Super Bowl following the 1992 season between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills was scheduled to be held at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. But the game was moved to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., because Arizona did not recognize the Martin Luther King holiday at the time.

Arizona might also have lost the right to host the Super Bowl following the 2014 season (February of 2015) when the state passed SB 1062, which was similar to Georgia legislation. The law was heavily criticized by civil rights groups, local businesses and the LGBT community and eventually was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer in February of 2014 -- one year before the Super Bowl.

The NFL's only official statement at the time was that it was "following the issue." But Sports Illustrated reported that the league was considering moving the game to Tampa (the runner-up in the bid process) on short notice.

This is only the beginning.

Whether you agree with the legislation or not -- and I don't -- there would be severe economic repercussions if this law passes. The three professional sports league -- the NFL, Major League Baseball and NBA -- all would balk at putting major events here, as possibly would the NCAA. Blank likely could say goodbye to the Final Four and other centerpiece events, too. Conventions likely would follow suit.

Georgia has stepped in it, whether those under the Gold Dome want to admit that or not.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.