'Religious liberty' bill turned into an Alabama-Vanderbilt game

"Follow the money."

It was a phrase I heard for the first time when I saw the movie "All The President's Men," something whispered by a secret source to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in the dark of a Washington D.C. parking deck. Hal Holbrook ("Deep Throat"/Mark Felt) was telling Robert Redford (Woodward) that if he found the source of money for the break-in at the Watergate Hotel, he would find the real story.

"Follow the money" is applicable in sports. Why do you believe the NFL, the NCAA and so many leagues and conferences make some of the illogical decisions they do?

"Follow the money," although somewhat in reverse, is basically what happened Monday when Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced he is going to veto House Bill 757, also known as the "Religious Liberty" bill (because that sounded better than "Legalized Discrimination" bill).

I've weighed in on why I believed the bill was wrong and how it would severely impact Atlanta's ability to land major sports events. The NFL, the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, NCAA and College Football Playoff officials were among those who stated their objections to the bill and suggested that if it was signed into law, there could be economic repercussions. The NFL said any kind of exclusionary law like that would be factored into whether a bidding city would win the right to host a Super Bowl. That's the NFL's way of saying, "Don't you dare."

I'm not going to pretend to be able to look into Gov. Deal's head and claim to know what he really believes about the bill. It's much easier to look into the heads of bill proponents like state senators Greg Kirk and Josh McKoon, because their misguided thoughts are right there at the surface, like mold. So when Deal says the measure "doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of its people,” while I agree with those words, I can't be certain if they truly reflect his thoughts. If that's what he really believes, all the better.

But the more this bill was talked about, the more Deal realized the high level opposition that it faced. When the governor faced mounting criticisms from teams and leagues, as well as corporations and Hollywood, this quickly turned into an Alabama-Vanderbilt game.

Deal followed the money -- or rather, he visualized the money leaving Georgia and flowing into another state.

To reiterate, sports can often have a profound impact on the "real" and political worlds. Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Jesse Owens were among those who protested racism, sexism and various forms of discrimination in their own way.

Protests in Missouri over race and work place benefits didn't draw overwhelming attention until the University of Missouri's football team, with the help of a former Georgia player, threatened to boycott.

The final chapter of this debate wasn't about "religious liberty" or "religious freedom" as much as it was about an individual's or a team's or a sports league's freedom to protest, and how Deal would respond to those protests.

If you don't like it, you're also welcome to protest. Or move.

Deal's decision means there's a greater likelihood that major sports events and money will flow into Georgia. The veto likely was made for economic reasons. But it was correct for far more important reasons than that.

Recent ramblings from the Digital Jukebox

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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.