The latest clash of sports and politics has found its way to Indiana, where lawmakers recently passed a highly controversial bill fewer than two weeks before the NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament concludes with the Final Four in Indianapolis.
The “religious freedom” bill, which grants businesses the right to ban same-sex couples based on religious beliefs, has the NCAA concerned about potential discrimination issues.
Days after the bill passed, the NCAA released a statement reacting to it: “The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events. We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.”
The NCAA has right for concern, as I, too, am worried that the bill will cause even more discrimination. I’m not going to go as far as renowned basketball analyst Charles Barkley, who said the NCAA should move the Final Four out of Indianapolis this year. It would be extremely difficult, logistically.
However, I believe college and professional leagues should refuse to schedule major events there in the future. This will make a profound statement, which will call for lawmakers to look at this bill and realize how detrimental it is for the state’s economy. When Lucas Oil Stadium was opened for the Indianapolis Colts in 2008, 86 percent of it was financed by the public. Teams have lobbied for public money by using the threat of relocation, and because state governments believe professional sports teams are vital to the economy, they cave to the demands.
The city and state officials argue that having these teams helps the economy by attracting major events to the area. If you take away these events, the lawmakers who voted for this bill will be much more likely to retract it. There’s a reason that a similar law was struck down in Arizona in February. When the bill was circulating in the Arizona state house, the NFL was considering moving Super Bowl XLIX away from Phoenix, Arizona, due to the bill’s proposed implications.
On top of that, the idea of legal, religion-based segregation is scary enough as it is. Religion is such a broad term that anybody could claim their beliefs, whether real or not, are enough to refuse service to anybody. This is especially important for essential services such as food and lodging. The fact that Indiana Governor Mike Pence had to sign the bill in a private location shows how deliberately shallow and controversial the law is.
This also wouldn’t be the first time the NCAA boycotted certain venues based on political issues. South Carolina has not been selected to host an NCAA championship event since 2002 because the NCAA’s opposition of the Confederate flag flying at the state house in the state capital of Columbia.
The story doesn’t just end in Indiana, as several other states are considering adopting similar laws. If more states were to pass religious freedom bills, we will see how strong the NCAA’s stance on this issue really is. Only then can we judge if the NCAA is actually putting equality before money.