Law could leave Georgia ‘benched’

Jason Collins is a former Atlanta Hawks player and ambassador for Athlete Ally, which fights discrimination against gay and transgender athletes. Ashland Johnson, a former Atlantan, is Athlete Ally’s director of policy and campaigns.

The sports world has little patience for bad decisions or poor sportsmanship. A few clutch mistakes can get athletes pulled from the game. When competitors mess up big enough to embarrass the team or league, they get fined or pulled from the roster all together.

Atlanta, one of the major players in the sports world, could be alarmingly close to making one of those pivotal mistakes. And accordingly, Georgia might be “benched.”

Right now, some Georgia lawmakers are trying to pass what would essentially be a license to discriminate. The so-called “religious freedom” bill, the First Amendment Defense Act, or FADA, has already passed the Senate. If the bill becomes law, it will allow widespread discrimination against marginalized communities in Georgia, particularly LGBT people.

As former athletes and former residents of Georgia, this is deeply concerning that Georgia is even considering passing such a discriminatory law. Georgia residents already face heightened discrimination because there are no statewide protections for LGBT people. Passing a discriminatory law will not only hurt vulnerable Georgians, but it will inflame the broader sports community.

Georgia is a sports powerhouse in terms of professional and college sports. Further, Atlanta is slated to host the NCAA Final Four in 2020. Atlanta is also in the running as a host city for the 2019 and/or 2020 Super Bowls, to be decided this May. The Super Bowl alone is estimated to bring in nearly $400 million to the game’s host.

But making a mistake like passing FADA would force the sports community to once again ask: should the athletic community invest in a state that so clearly fails to uphold the basic values of good sportsmanship?

Last year, Indiana, another major player in the sports world, made one of these costly mistakes. Indiana passed a license to discriminate bill similar to FADA. Indiana was the planned location of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Final Four basketball championship. Fair-minded basketball fans spoke up about the anti-LGBT legislation. Final Four teams spoke up. Athletes spoke up. Athlete Ally led the Final Four Fairness campaign. And the NCAA itself, NCAA teams, and business leaders banded together to put pressure on Indiana’s governor to fix the anti-LGBT legislation to ensure LGBT people had protections.

In 2014, Arizona considered passing a law also similar to FADA. Arizona was the planned location of the 2015 Super Bowl. Fans and leagues were appalled by this proposed discriminatory law. The NFL spoke up, and Arizona’s governor vetoed the bill. The 2015 Super Bowl threat was largely credited with this victory for fairness and equality.

Even the NCAA has weighed in on the impact of discriminatory laws on championship games. Last year, the NCAA said that a city or state’s non-discrimination laws will be a factor in their decision-making process for the next Final Four tournaments.

The message is clear: passing one of these discriminatory laws is a mistake that, in the sports world, can get you benched. Georgia should learn from these recent lessons.

Sports teach us to treat everyone with respect, to value fairness and equality. By passing a discriminatory law like FADA, Georgia lawmakers would be promoting values inconsistent with the values of sports. Rightfully, this move will call into question Georgia’s suitability to host major sports events.

The sports community has already shown that we will not sit idly by when major sports events are located in states that do not play by the rules of equality and fairness. And leagues, teams, and athletes will not hesitate to use their collective voices to “bench” any state that votes for legal discrimination of any kind.