It was the “flush heard ‘round the world.” It was March 23, 2016 and the North Carolina State Legislature had just passed House Bill 2. HB2, as it is currently known, is the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. Those in the LGBT community might call it by a different name when afforded the opportunity. The law essentially took those who identify as transgender and forced them into the bathroom that corresponds to the gender they were born with rather than the one they identify with. Who knew that a bill regulating the use of public restrooms in the Tar Heel State would turn into one of the “hot button” sports topics of 2016.
The outrage from the LGBT community on HB2 was immediate with many calling it discrimination of the highest order. Contrary to what many may understand about “the gay folk,” we’re big sports fans, too. Not just figure skating, gymnastics or diving either. We like the major-league team sports. Not just the WNBA either. The leagues began noticing this several years ago and much to the chagrin of some of their fans, began having LGBT nights at the ballparks, arenas and stadiums around the country. You might even see a gay couple on the “kiss-cam” these days while out at a game.
Yes, the LGBT community is a valued part of the paying sports audience. Players using anti-LGBT expletives are being punished more harshly now than ever before. And while I feel the punishments still don’t go nearly far enough, it is a start.
But back to HB2 and why it matters so much for the NBA. The 2017 All-Star Game is being held in Charlotte next season. Outside of the NBA Finals, this is the league’s premiere showcase. Having that game held in an arena that rests within the borders of a state that has allowed for such blatant discrimination toward the transgender community isn’t something that will sit well with the LGBT groups and their allies.
Like the crazy heterosexual fan-boys and girls that the NBA has, LGBT fans are a constituency that Adam Silver knows he must answer to. Silver was quick to condemn the decision by the State Legislature. Just 24 hours after the legislation was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory, the NBA made its distain known in a statement.
“We are deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect and do not yet know what impact it will have on our ability to successfully host the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte,” the league said.
That was the first time they referenced a hint of a possibility that the All-Star Game would be taken out of Charlotte. But since that March statement, the league has been hesitant to go much further in their rhetoric. My question is a simple one: Why?
The state has brushed off a myriad of top-name musical performers pulling out of concerts because of HB2. Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Duran Duran, Mumford and Sons and a host of others have canceled scheduled engagements. That has to hit businesses within proximity of the arenas affected pretty hard. Additionally, companies like PayPal and Deutsche Bank have canceled plans for new or additional business in North Carolina. Pardon my mixing of metaphors, but the NBA needs to play that kind of hardball.
Deadlines are the only way things get done. Adam Silver should know this by now. Whether it’s counting down from five to one with your 7-year-old in order to get him to stop behaving poorly or giving your teenager an ultimatum on getting her grades up in order to keep playing sports, deadlines work. If I don’t get this column done by a certain date, my managing editor will tell me not to bother sending it at all.
The word “deadline” is roughly 150 years old and was first used during the days of the Civil War. While HB2 isn’t anything that is likely to stir passions similar to those seen during the Civil War, it’s high time for the NBA to draw its line in the sand. After it’s initial statement the day after passage of HB2, the NBA has made similar statements that seem to vaguely threaten North Carolina if it doesn’t reverse course on this discriminatory legislation. In early June, Silver went his furthest yet in making his point to North Carolina legislators. He intimated that a decision on the All-Star Game needed to be made by the end of summer but still did not set a deadline. Again, I am left to wonder why.
When the NBA or any sports league negotiates a labor deal, deadlines are set. They are set for a reason. They precipitate action. If they don’t, then there are consequences. The North Carolina State Legislature put this ball in motion. Governor McCrory waited just a few hours before signing HB2 into law. He didn’t even do what most smart politicians do and wait for some reaction before grabbing his Mont Blanc. The NBA has given him more than enough time to right this wrong. If McCrory wants to show the naiveté and ignorance of a child in enacting this legislation, then the NBA should treat him as one. Instead, without enacting a deadline, the league is treating Governor McCrory as an equal. He’s proven to be anything but that. It should be noted that I reached out to the Governor’s office for comment twice. Both times I received no reply. Shocking.
That takes us to the very present. This week, the North Carolina State Legislature put out its proposed amendment to HB2. Their attempt to make the discriminatory legislation more palatable included:
- Repealing a provision in the original law that removed the right of North Carolinians to sue for employment discrimination.
- Providing residents the “opportunity” to obtain a “certificate of sex reassignment” if they come from states where updating a birth certificate isn’t an option.
- Establishing a commission to be appointed by state legislators to examine HB2 and make potential changes down the road.
Even the most objective eye can see that these changes aren't going to move the needle all that much for the LGBT community. On Thursday night in response to my request for a comment, the NBA in conjunction with the Charlotte Hornets released the following statement: “We have been engaged in dialogue with numerous groups at the city and state levels, but we do not endorse the version of the bill that we understand is currently before the legislature. We remain committed to our guiding principles of inclusion, mutual respect and equal protections for all. We continue to believe that constructive engagement with all sides is the right path forward. There has been no new decision made regarding the 2017 NBA All-Star Game.”
What’s missing from that statement? A deadline. It’s time to put Governor McCrory and the State Legislature on the clock. If losing concerts, corporations and the revenue both provide to the state’s coffers isn’t making an impact, let’s find out what losing a world-class event like the NBA All-Star Game would do. State officials have had two opportunities to get this right. They have failed. What makes anybody on Park Avenue think further attempts to nix this poorly conceived legislation will turn out any better? A deadline will either get the desired result or allow the NBA to say that it did its due diligence and move forward with another city for next year’s midseason showcase.
One last three-point heave to take here… where are you Michael Jordan? This is your team. In a state where you came to prominence while starring in Chapel Hill for Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels, you should be far more outspoken on this issue. Jordan has been largely apolitical throughout his career both on and off the floor. That has changed a little in recent years but not nearly enough for a man described by most to be the greatest NBA player of all time. News emerged on Thursday that Jordan was getting involved behind the scenes. But Jordan’s career wasn’t one that played out behind the scenes. It was a career defined by what we all saw with our own eyes. Jordan should be out front when it comes to this issue, not behind the scenes acting like a role player. He’s been a star his whole career. It’s time to act like one when it comes to HB2.
Let me finish with some perspective. Last weekend Adam Silver walked in the annual New York City Gay Pride Parade along with others from the NBA office. Could you ever imagine former commissioner David Stern doing that? I think not. Silver has proven to be far more proactive on a number of issues that will ultimately benefit his league. With that being said, playing the All-Star Game in Charlotte next February under any version of HB2 threatens to diminish many of the accomplishments that Silver added to a growing resume of inclusion.