Last night the Charlotte Hornets celebrated a 90-88 victory on the road in Miami, a victory that puts them on the brink of the 2nd round for the first time since 2002. However, the Hornets, the league and their superstar owner Michael Jordan have a chance to achieve something much more important than playoff success.
On the 23rd of March the House and Senate in North Carolina passed House Bill 2, a bill which seriously erodes the rights of the transgender community in the state. The bill states that all multiple occupancy bathrooms must only be used by people based on their ‘biological sex’ as stated on their birth certificate. This is incredibly demeaning to the transgender community as it would require a person who considers themselves a women to use a public mens room or vice versa. What the bill is basically saying is that the government of North Carolina does not respect the fact that a transgender women is a women. The bill effectively sees the transgender community as no more than cross dressers. It sadly shows that in many parts of the United States the LGBTQ community still faces significant discrimination.
Not only does this bill affect the Charlotte Hornets immediately, as it will impact transgender fans of the team who wish to attend games at Time Warner Cable Arena, but also in the future, as the 2017 NBA All-Star game is scheduled to take place in Charlotte. Both league commissioner Adam Silver and Michael Jordan have expressed their concerns regarding the bill. Jordan released a fairly vanilla statement reiterating the Hornets opposition to discrimination of any kind. Adam Silver echoed Jordan’s comments in his announcement concerning the bill and the impact it would have on the planned All-Star game. Silver made it clear that he believes the NBA is in a unique position to affect change regarding this issue. Quite how Silver expects to do this is unclear at this point but it seems like a priority for the league which is certainly a positive.
Jordan’s involvement certainly adds another level of intrigue to this situation. Nobody has ever questioned MJ’s achievements on the court, anybody who argues against him as the greatest the NBA has ever seen is simply being contrary. Where Jordan’s legacy has suffered is off the court, with both his competence as an owner and unwillingness to engage with social issues during his playing career being held against him. Jordan famously stated ‘Republicans wear sneakers too’, when asked to endorse Democrat Harvey Gantt in his attempt to unseat the notoriously bigoted state Senator Jesse Helms, described as ‘the last white racist politician in this country’. Jordan always tried to remain apolitical during his career focusing on building his personal brand, something which he succeeded in like no athlete before or since. However, this should be an opportunity for Jordan to change this perception.
In the years since his retirement Jordan has cautiously become more politically involved. In 2004 he contributed to Obama’s campaign for Senate and he hosted a fundraiser for the 2012 presidential campaign. There is however, a feeling that MJ had a chance, in 1992, to become more than just a great athlete and he choose not to.
So what can Jordan, the Hornets organisation and the NBA do to affect this issue? The All-Star game in 2017 is certainly a key source of leverage. A threat from the NBA to move the game with the support of the Hornets organisation would certainly send a message to the state government. In the meantime the Hornets should use their place within the Charlotte community to increase awareness of the issue and support for the LGBTQ community.
Sports have an incredible power to affect change within society. Sports stars have a level of influence in shaping public opinion that goes beyond their responsibilities as athletes. Magic Johnson showed this within the HIV community and his work off the court has changed public perception of how people who are HIV positive are viewed by society. Jordan and the Hornets have a chance to do something similar.
Remember Mike, the LGBTQ community buys sneakers too.
Ball is 4 life, ball is for all.