The NCAA voiced it’s concern last Thursday about a new bill that the state of Indiana passed that the NCAA believes may open the door for discrimination.They are specifically concerned that the bill’s loose language has the potential to allow discrimination against gay people. “The law would prohibit state and local laws that ‘substantially burden’ the ability of people — including businesses and associations — to follow their religious beliefs.” NCAA President Mark Emmert commented that not only is he concerned that the law will allow businesses to discriminate against gay people, but also how it may impact student-athletes and employees. His statement also suggested that the NCAA could consider moving future athletic events out of Indianapolis to boycott the new law.
A spokesman for Governor Pence reiterated that the governor does not believe the bill would “in any way legalize discrimination in Indiana.” “For more than 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and this law will not do so in Indiana either,” he said.
The ESPN article above states, “The NCAA has stepped into social debates before, and there is precedent for it taking events elsewhere.” The NCAA seems to be particularly interested in these implications, since there have been several breakthroughs for gay rights in college sports over the last couple years. The NCAA and the young adults and students it represents have been supportive of changes to make environments more inclusive.
Although this bill has been under review for several months, it did not receive any opposition until this last week. Groups such as the LGBT Sports Coalition also voiced opposition for the bill, calling for the NCAA, the Big Ten, NFL and USA Diving and Gymnastics to move their athletic events from Indiana. The NCAA and Big Ten conferences both stated that they plan to review the bill’s impact carefully in the coming weeks.
What caught my attention is that the NCAA has been so quick to take a stand on this bill. As an independent association created to represent the best interests of student-athletes and higher education, this bill does not directly deal with either. Rather the bill focuses on reducing government regulation over businesses, and has no control over the private sector.
Overall, I am surprised that by two things: 1) that such a powerful organization is taking a stand against this bill, based on loose wording, and 2) that the NCAA has taken such a decisive and strong stand so quickly. If I have learned anything within the last year, it has been to wait patiently (but not passively) for more information to become available before picking a side. There is a certain wisdom to be had in thinking in the grey area, rather than choosing black or white right away. I think this is especially true, when an organization has not been called upon to make such a decision.
I think President Emmert’s statement was premature. I admire the association’s stand for human rights. I don’t think that they necessarily need to be affected by the law to continue to throw their support behind the LGBT community. However, I’m not sure that it is in anyone’s best interests for the NCAA to be threatening to move athletic events out of Indiana if the law remains. There are billions of dollars tied up in media contracts through the NCAA. This money benefits the institutions participating, as well as the Indianapolis economy when events such as the Final Four come to town To move similar events could be detrimental to the very jobs that the government is trying to stimulate through fewer regulations.
My final comment is that I am content to sit back and see how this bill unfolds. Will its language really enable discrimination against gay people and those with religious convictions, or will Governor Pence be correct in relying on the integrity of Religious Freedom Restoration Act? I wonder if the NCAA will find that it will need to amend its comments or that its threats will prove empty in the coming weeks, as the bill is reviewed. In spite of that, I am glad to see that there are several organizations willing to engage in social issues for the defending of human rights.