Sports has a hammer: Get used to it

When will it dawn on people that this is reality?

When will some understand that many athletes don’t just run fast and jump high but have thoughts on significant issues facing society and choose to use their platform to further their causes?

When will local governments understand that when legislation is passed that is believed to infringe on civil rights protections, there are going to be economic ramifications. Just as an athlete taking a controversial stand risks losing fans and endorsements, a state passing divisive legislation risks losing major events.

The NCAA announced Monday it was pulling seven championship events out of North Carolina, including first- and second-round games of the men’s basketball tournament in Greensboro.

The NBA moved its All-Star game out of Charlotte. That’s trivial compared to the potential of North Carolina losing men’s basketball tournament games in a state with two iconic programs like Duke and UNC. It’s a gut shot for Tobacco Road.

The NCAA’s decision came after months of waiting for state officials to rewrite or repeal HB2, the so-called “bathroom law,” a label that minimizes its actual significance. The organization said NCAA events “must promote an inclusive atmosphere for athletes, coaches, administrators and fans,” adding that North Carolina laws “invalidate any local law that treats sexual orientation as a protected class or has a purpose to prevent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.”

Sports has a hammer. Get used to it.

We experienced a similar political firestorm in Georgia with the “Religious Liberty” bill (House Bill 757). It would’ve allowed businesses and individuals to withhold services from the LGBT community on so-called religious grounds. It was legalized discrimination. The NFL immediately made it clear that if Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill, Atlanta could forget hosting another Super Bowl. The Falcons, Braves, Hawks and college sports officials also denounced HB757.

That was it. Deal weighed the consequences and canned the bill.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank believes Deal made the decision for more than economic reasons.

“That’s not to say the business community didn’t express themselves in terms of the impact it would have,” Blank said Tuesday at his family office. “I think the governor felt strongly that this is not what America is about. America is about accepting and supporting diversity of all kinds. That was really the core issue. It wasn’t, ‘Well, look at the pros and cons from the business perspective.’”

Blank understands what some misguided politicians don’t: Athletes and leagues will not remain quiet about issues that affect them and can exert great influence.

“Whether it’s the CEO of Home Depot or the owner of the Atlanta Falcons, people in positions of leadership have a loud voice in the community,” he said. “People have a responsibility to speak up and represent what they think and their values of their organizations.”

Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest racial injustices by sitting or kneeling during the national anthem is a polarizing subject. But is protest ever comfortable? Nobody can deny he has ignited conversation on the subject. Whether that conversation amounts to anything remains to be seen but he has gained some support in recent days.

The ACC has been slow to take a stand on HB2. Understandable. Its roots are in North Carolina. But ACC commissioner John Swofford belatedly issued a strong statement following the NCAA’s announcement, calling for the bill to be repealed and saying “it’s counter to basic human rights.”

If North Carolina lawmakers stand firm, that’s their prerogative. But they need to accept the reality of the situation rather than respond with bombastic comments like those of Kami Mueller, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Republican Party.

She released a statement saying, “Under the NCAA’s logic, colleges should make cheerleaders and football players share bathrooms, showers and hotel rooms. This decision is an assault to female athletes across the nation.”

Putting aside for a moment that no high profile woman athlete has shared that sentiment, that wasn’t the worst of Mueller’s statement.

This was: “I wish the NCAA was this concerned about the women who were raped at Baylor.”

Unless the NCAA has secretly become a new branch of government, it’s not empowered to bring rape charges. Perhaps that’s not taught at GOP Spokesman School.

I’m sure it would be easier if sports bodies and athletes just played games and shut up. But that reality doesn’t exist in this country, nor should it.

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