NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has made a very brave and incredibly positive decision. Along with the NBA’s owners Silver made the decision to move next year’s NBA All-Star game away from Charlotte, North Carolina, following the State’s controversial House Bill 2 which seriously damages the rights of the LGBTQ community in North Carolina. The Decision has been met with a mixture of cautious support from players and foul homophobia from politicians and members of the Hornets organisation.
When I wrote this article back in April when the bill was passed it was more in hope than expectation that the league and the Hornets organisation would do anything about the situation. The usual noises about discrimination in all form being unacceptable were trotted out from Silver and Hornets owner Michael Jordan. But such is hyper masculine, homophobic environment that is professional men’s sports that it seemed likely that the whole situation would be conveniently swept under the rug, that the the game would go ahead as planned in Charlotte.
The fact that it is not has an awful lot to do with Silver who is fast becoming one of the most socially conscious sports commissioners in the history of American sports. Last month the NBA and the WNBA became the first major sports organisations to have a float in the New York City Pride Parade. Silver has also commended players for speaking out on issues that they feel are important to them and to American society. The commissioner seems to be of the mind that the NBA and it’s players have a responsibility beyond being successful athletes and a profitable league, which can only be a good thing. Decisions like this will surely make other states think twice before passing similar laws.
This is by no means the first time that a sports league has got involved politically. In 1990 when the state of Arizona voted not to recognise the holiday honouring Martin Luther King Jr., then NBA commissioner David Stern moved the NBA’s annual meeting away from Arizona. Similarly the NFL decided to move the 1993 Super Bowl from Tempe, Arizona to Pasadena, California. The difference in this situation is that it is an issue that is much less related to the vast majority of the athletes within the league. Both the NBA and NFL have a significant percentage of black athletes meaning that Arizona’s decision was an insult to the vast majority of the respective leagues. As a result Stern and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue were assured of the support of their players. This is not the case for Silver, there has been one openly gay player in the history of the NBA, and as a result resounding support from his players was not guaranteed. This makes his decision all the more courageous and all the more commendable.
Credit should not only be placed at the feet of Adam Silver. Golden State Warrior’s CEO Rick Welts also played a huge part in convincing NBA owners to support the move. Welts is the most powerful openly gay man in American sports and his speech to the owners was by all accounts incredibly moving. He talked about his life in professional sports, how he had to conceal his sexuality for fear of discrimination and losing his job. House Bill 2 is not just about the issue of bathrooms it is about protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination. If the NBA had simply stood by and allowed the All-Star game to go ahead we would be taking the first step back to the bad old days when Welts and countless others lived in fear of being open about their sexuality.
Predictably there has been a backlash from the bigoted section of society that allowed the bill to pass in the first place. State Governor Pat McCrory lamented “politically correct bullshit” for the loss of $100 million worth of revenues for the state. Perhaps Gov. McCrory should have considered this before passing a bill that exposes some of the most vulnerable members of his State to discrimination on a daily basis. Hornets minority investor Felix Sabates released a ludicrous statement about it being a shame that less than 10% of the population had created a knee jerk reaction to deprive this great State of the game. Because all decisions should be based on the wishes of the white, male and straight majority, that sounds like a great society to live in doesn’t it?
Throughout all this Hornets owner Michael Jordan has remained silent. In my previous post I called for Jordan to play a significant role in affecting change in his home state. So far he has left it up to the league. However, it is not too late for Jordan to step up to the plate and get involved. MJ is still a figure of immense influence in the North Carolina community and if he was to be part of negotiations to repeal the bill so the game can come back to Charlotte in 2019 I’m certain state officials would pay attention. Such is Jordan’s status in the State that he would have the ability to swing votes in the upcoming Gubernatorial election.
Unfortunately the immediate victims of this decision will be the small business owners of Charlotte, who were hoping for a healthy influx of cash over the All-Star weekend, not the bigoted politicians who got us here. Lets hope that the only sensible resolution can be reached in time for Charlotte to host the game in 2019 and this nasty piece of North Carolina’s history can be left behind.
Ball is for life. Ball is for all.